Health center offers free dental care for kids Friday
By Amy Morissette, Staff writer

BRIDGEPORT -- Youngsters in Bridgeport will have plenty to smile about on Friday -- and more brightly, too -- thanks to the Southwest Community Health Center.

In conjunction with National Children's Dental Health Month and Give Kids a Smile Day, the health center on Fairfield Avenue will offer free dental screenings and cleanings to children from low-income families.

The American Dental Association established Give Kids a Smile Day to marshal support for helping under served children get oral health care.

Ramsey L. Williams, the center's community relations coordinator, said the program is designed to educate children as well as parents on good dental hygiene. "I think it's important for children to get screened and, of course, get the information they need to continue to take care of their teeth," said Williams. Williams said Southwest has been holding this event for the past 10 years, collaborating with the local YMCA and Mercy Learning Center.

Dr. Danielle Pannese, a dentist for five years, said this will be her first year participating in Give Kids a Smile Day. "I'm very excited to have the children come. The goal is to educate the children and the parents on good oral health," she said. Pannese said the biggest problem with children's dental health is that youngsters do not often come for preventative care. She said many children, just like adults, come to the dentist for emergencies only.

"A lot of the children are not coming for preventative care due to parents not having dental insurance," said Pannese. "We want to educate kids and parents on proper home care, fluoride treatments and a healthy diet." Many of the children who Pannese sees have serious cavities, dental abscesses and infections. She said if the children came in for regular six-month cleanings and fluoride treatments, it would actually be cheaper than emergency treatments.

"If there is reduction in dental preventative services, it's going to lead to more emergency care and this is going to actually cost taxpayers more money when they must provide more expensive care later on," said Pannese.

Anna Washington, dental practice manager for Southwest, said it makes a big difference to see children "grow up with healthy smiles." She said the health center is always willing to work with families to arrange for proper dental care.

"We take Medicaid ... and we will take you if you don't have insurance, we will work with you because the kids end up in pain it's awful," said Washington.

Washington said Southwest has six clinics where dental care is available on a regular basis, as well as four school-based health centers.