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Help A Child Smile program comes to Clayton

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With relatively few public transportation options, many Clayton County parents find it difficult to take their children to the dentist.

This week, the Help A Child Smile (HCS) mobile, dental unit brought the dentists to them.

The HCS program, started in 1993 by Conyers-based dentist Mark Shurett, was created to give children in metro Atlanta better access to oral health care. On Tuesday, the mobile unit was at the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) in Jonesboro, offering an array of overdue, student dental care.

Brad Johnson, HCS mobile manager, said the Shurett Dental Group operates 11 mobile units throughout metro Atlanta. He said the goal is to make sure area children get regular dental screenings twice a year.

"We want to make sure that it is as convenient as possible for children to get to the dentist," said Johnson. "A lot of parents simply don't have the transportation, or can't afford to take a day off to take their child to the dentist. When a child is enrolled in the program, we want to be that child's dentist."

The large bus used in the program is decked out with all of the amenities of a regular dental office, including a handful of staff, several dentist chairs, and a mini autoclave to sterilize tools. Children were able to get teeth cleanings, X-ray examinations, fluoride treatments, and even have cavities filled.

To make the children more comfortable, several kid-friendly items were on hand, including festive-colored mouth guards, toothbrushes, and "High School Musical 3" stickers. Allison Shroyer, lead dental assistant in the mobile unit, said the experience makes going to the dentist less scary for children who are first-time clients.

"I love working with the kids," said Shroyer. "A lot of them think it's cool, especially if we have fun music on."

Derrick Walker, a Jonesboro father whose daughters, Shayla, 9, and Mikala, 6, visited the mobile center, said the program was helpful.

"The dentist office is crowded, and this is close to the school," said Walker, whose daughters attend Jackson Elementary. "It's very convenient for me, and the people are nice.

"It's a good thing for the schools to do," he continued. "We had no idea that [the children] had cavities. This lets them take care of the problem before it gets worse."

Johnson said while having healthy teeth can prevent other health problems, it also improves a child's self-esteem. That can go a long way, he said.

"Having a healthy smile makes you feel good about yourself, and stays with you as long as you live," he said.

Most children enrolled in the Help A Child Smile program are insured, either through PeachCare, Medicaid, or private insurance. Payment plans are available for those who are not insured. For more information, call (770) 760-7900.