It’s busier than usual in Dr. Eric von Hoven’s dental office Friday morning. The lobby is full of children and nearly every seat at Cedar Creek Dental is full.
One patient needs a filling, another has a chipped tooth, a third has a number of ailments that need immediate work... and its only 10 a.m.
Across town at two other dental practices, similar scenes are playing out as buses full of Highland Community Unit School District 5 students are being dropped off at Plaza Dental Care and The Smile Shoppe.
Each year the school district and the three dental practices team up during the month of February, National Children’s Dental Health Month, to give children from low-income families dental care their families don’t have the means to get themselves. Its part of a national day across the country where dentists do the same.
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Roughly 75 students were bused to the three practices for dental work Friday morning.
Cedar Creek Dental Practice Manager Kathy Dumstorff said the day does more than just give students much-needed dental work, it also gives them a good early experience at the dentist that can make it less scary in the future.
That’s important, von Hoven said, because early experiences in the dental chair, or even hearing about bad experiences from elders or friends, can shape how willing a person will be to go to the dentist with regularity later on in life.
“Any little thing we can do helps,” he said. “Good habits start early and its good experiences. These kids coming out of here now won’t have a bad dental experience as opposed to people my age and older.”
However, he said, much of the work the practices do on Give Kids a Smile Day is preventive and reconstructive care that, under other circumstances, the students wouldn’t get.
“Most of these kids probably don’t get regular preventative care,” von Hoven said. “So every bit you can help them with is a big step.”
To receive treatment, parents apply through the school district. If approved, the students are bussed out to the practices, depending on their school and grade level. Middle school students go to Plaza Dental, while Highland Elementary students visit the Smile Shoppe.
Beyond that, she said sometimes the day can be the only way students can even get time at the dentist.
“We see several kids who haven’t been to the dentists yet just because they don’t have the means to do it,” Dumstorff said. “Parents can be aware they have a problem but just don’t have the means to do anything about it.”
Give Kids a Smile Day isn’t just one of the ways the three dental practices try to give back. Dumstorff said a major focus of the practices’ work is community service.
“We try to work as a group, as a community, to do these things,” Dumstorff said. “We’re trying to make our focus community service on some of these projects. If you put a dollar amount on the amount of dentistry that’s done today — I couldn’t even guess.”
This is at least the 10th year the three practices have offered free cleanings to students. von Hoven and the doctors at the Smile Shoppe and Plaza Dental originally participated in the program through Southeastern Illinois University Edwardsville before bringing the program to Highland.
“We decided as a group to take care of the kids in need in Highland,” he said. “Every year we work with the teachers, the school nurses to try to find kids need.”
He said the dentists do as much work as they can in that one day of service, sometimes having students with more extensive needs come back on other days.
von Hoven said he’s happy to be busy on Give Kids a Smile day. He said giving back to those who need it most is a “wonderful” feeling.
“They’re some of our best patients,” von Hoven said.