Dentists help keep children's mouths healthy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 6, 2007

By Joanie Morris

Kannapolis Citizen

For Allison Figueroa, getting dental care was a new experience.

The small girl sat quietly in the chair, slowly knitting her fingers together as Dr. Kim Blanding, a pediatric dentist with Sanchez and Associates on South Ridge Avenue, explained what she was about to do. The 5-year-old nodded her head when Blanding asked if she understood.

Figueroa didn’t say much; she was just a little nervous — but brave.

Figueroa was only one of five patients Blanding saw last Friday as part of national Give Kids a Smile Day. The day is aimed at providing dental care to children who, for the most part, don’t have dental insurance. The day is also National Children’s Dental Access Day. All of the children are referred by social service groups in the region.

For Blanding, the donated service is about helping kids feel better about their smiles and relieving their toothaches.

“With my being a pediatric dentist, I understand the importance of access to care,” said Blanding. “That’s one of my goals with my profession.”

Blanding — who said she loves children and dentistry — said kids with toothaches and no access to dental care must feel miserable.

“I think I’m fortunate to be in the specialty that I am and be able to provide a service like this,” Blanding said. “There’s such a need in this area.”

Blanding has been in the offices of Dr. Carlos Sanchez and associates for about two years. She has been a dentist since 1991. She attended dental school at Northwestern University in Chicago, received her pediatric training at Columbia University in New York City and did her residency in the Bronx.

While she worked on Figueroa, Blanding talked candidly about being able to donate her services.

Blanding said she volunteers each year because she feels like it’s something she can do to help the community.

“Give Kids a Smile Day is really based on volunteers from dentists,” Blanding said.

According to the American Dental Association, there were 2,192 programs last Friday associated with Give Kids a Smile Day. Those programs served an estimated 750,762 children, with 14,308 dentists across the nation participating.

In Blanding’s office, those five patients had $5,423 in free dental care on Friday alone. That doesn’t count follow-up.

Blanding or another area provider will see the children for any follow-up treatment they need, as well. The children can go to “any dentist that is willing to provide free service for children,” she said.

The goal of the day is to do as much work as possible, but Blanding said getting it all done is impossible in some cases. Allison needed four fillings on the left side of her mouth last Friday. She will be back to get more on the right side, and will come back again to get the front teeth done.

All the treatments will be free.

For follow-up treatment, patients call the office to set up a visit.

“I know how it must feel to have a toothache and not be able to go to the dentist,” Blanding said. “Our goal is to do as much as we can today without overdoing it.”

In addition, Blanding said the goal is also “to give (patients) a real positive experience.” That way, they will continue to keep up with their dental care and grow up with healthy smiles.

While she worked on Allison, Blanding and her dental assistant, Jarrett Valete, praised the girl, noting how brave she was.

As they performed procedures, Blanding and Valete would tell Allison what they were going to do before they did it and after doing it, making sure she was OK. Each time, the small girl would nod her assent.

According to the ADA Web site, Give Kids A Smile is an annual centerpiece to National Children’s Dental Health Month and is observed every year on the first Friday in February. National Children’s Dental Health Month is celebrated during February. During the month, the focus is on providing oral health education to all children despite their economic status. Give Kids A Smile was designed to provide education and preventative and restorative care to low-income children who do not have regular access to care.

On Feb. 16, Blanding will be at it again. This time, through a regional group called Partnership for Children’s Dental Health, she will see 15 more patients from Charlotte. In addition to providing the care, Blanding advocates for other dentists to do the same.

“They’re a good provider for other dentists to get involved with also,” Blanding said. “If you want to do some work.”

For Allison, the new experience of coming to the dentist wasn’t as traumatic as it could have been. With four fillings done and more work to come, Allison said she liked coming to the dentist.

Contact Joanie Morris at 704-932-3336 or