Before Ostrow School of Dentistry’s Give Kids a Smile Day on Friday, Jessica Garcia had never been to the dentist.
“They were nice,” said Garcia, 5, a kindergarten student at the James A. Foshay Learning Center. “It was fun and they counted my teeth.”
“I have 20 teeth!” said classmate Dajah Nicholson, 5, a kindergarten student at Foshay, “And I learned it’s important to brush your teeth.”
The Ostrow School of Dentistry brought two mobile vans to the Foshay Learning Center, a K-12 school one mile west of the University Park Campus, to give elementary school-aged children dental screenings Friday.
Students who returned parental consent forms were brought classroom-by-classroom onto the physical education field. After meeting the dental hygienists, one of whom was dressed as the tooth fairy, students were taken into vans equipped with dental chairs and implements for their screenings.
The screening allowed hygienists to determine whether students were eligible to receive sealants, thin plastic coverings applied to molars to prevent tooth decay, according to Linda Brookman, co-director of the Neighborhood Mobile Dental Van Prevention Program.
“The focus of our program is largely on prevention,” Brookman said. “By providing screenings and eventually sealants, we are trying to stem the tide of dental disease.”
The USC mobile vans will return in the coming months to apply sealants to eligible students. Some families also received $100 vouchers for dental care at the Ostrow School of Dentistry, said Roseann Mulligan, chair of Dental Public Health and Pediatric Dentistry.
“The need is so great,” Mulligan said. “Cavities are truly an epidemic in L.A. County and the lower-income population of the United States.”
Mulligan said about 73 percent of children in L.A. County have insufficient dental care.
Dean of the Ostrow School of Dentistry Avishai Sadan said the implications of this event and pediatric dental care go far beyond nice smiles.
“When kids are in pain from toothaches and infections, the deck is stacked against them,” Sadan said. “Some people forget that your mouth is part of your head, but we know the impact we can make on the community and we ensure it remains a priority. We believe it’s the right thing to do.”
While 100 students received screenings, more than 600 students received oral hygiene instruction in a nearby classroom. Classes were brought in one at a time and received a short lesson on proper dental care from Dr. Julie Jenks, a professor of hygiene.
“I want to get them enthused so they can see what they themselves can do to take care of their teeth,” Jenks said.
Jenks said this includes choosing healthy snacks, chewing sugarless gum and rinsing after eating.
Christopher Chan, a third-year dental student, dressed as a molar and taught the Foshay students how to brush their teeth with a five-foot long toothbrush.
“This is my first time dressing-up as a molar, but I believe the dental school has prepared me well,” Chan said. “I do like the fact that USC is involved with the community, though. It’s a lot of fun and really creates positive change.”
Farnaz Jahangiri, a junior majoring in dental hygiene, said this was one of the first times she had the opportunity to serve the community through dentistry.
“This is one of the best experiences I have ever had,” Jahangiri said, “I’ve never worked with kids before, but they are really trying to cooperate.”
The dental hygiene students comprised most of the work force, according to the Chair of the Dental Hygiene Program.
This is the 10th year USC participated in the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile Day; is one of the Ostrow School of Dentistry’s many community outreach initiatives.
To ensure that students apply what they learned in school to their home lives, each student received a bag with dental supplies (toothbrush, toothpaste and floss), toys and an instruction sheet. Students who were screened were able to choose a new book from a selection donated by the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation.
“I’m feeling good and happy because I’m going to the dentist,” said Brian Beltran, 6. “I learned that teeth are important because you use them when you eat and when you smile.”