Most kids are afraid of going to the dentist, but Lizabeth, 10, said she was “excited” to get a free dental screening Tuesday as part of the Greater New York Dental Meeting, a dental trade show at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
“We get to learn new things about your teeth and how to take care of them,” said Lizbeth, a fifth-grader at P.S. 129 in Harlem. “It’s not every day we get to do this.”
Around 400 children, all under the age of 12, attended the free screenings offered by Colgate-Palmolive. Dubbed as an opportunity for children to learn about oral health, the free screenings attracted students from elementary schools in low-income communities chosen by convention organizers like P.S. 129 and P.S. 122 in Queens. According to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, these kids are especially vulnerable to tooth decay because they’re less likely to see a dentist than other children from more affluent areas.
The screening, which is in its ninth year, was set up in the back of the Javits Center, past 1,500 exhibits and booths advertising gleaming surgical tools and the latest innovations in tooth brushes. Enormous posters for Philips Sonicare, which offers electric toothbrushes, urged attendees to stop by their booth to try their newest products. Others, like the dental supplies giant Henry Schein, displayed rows of shiny metal pliers and wire cutters neatly organized in plastic bins. A low-key hum permeated the sterile show room, which smelled like a dentist’s office – antiseptic and clean.
At the kids’ event, however, the students played around, creating a much noisier atmosphere. At some tables, students could pile their plates with plastic renderings of healthy foods like broccoli and apples.
Cielo, 8, a third grader at P.S. 129, stacked her plate with fake fruit. “What I learned is that your plate is supposed to be colorful because if it’s not colorful, you’re not really eating protein,” she said.
Other tables were stocked with crossword puzzles and students took turns playing dental-related video games. Each child also received a goodie bag filled with Colgate toothpaste and electric brushes that come with a two-minute timer.
Organizers said they wanted kids to have fun while they learned healthy habits. “We truly believe that having a child be engaged in their oral health through fun educational activities is going to help them to want to take care of their teeth,” said Dr. Marsha Butler, a vice president at Colgate-Palmolive.
Colgate-Palmolive manned the checkup stations with dentists and 77 volunteers and set up makeshift sinks short enough for an 8-year-old to reach. Fifteen dentists and hygienists were on hand to help each child brush their teeth for two full minutes. One hygienist, clad in a light-blue uniform and mouth covering, admonished, “You guys are getting your tongues, right?”
CC Sabathia, a free agent baseball pitcher who has played for the Yankees, teamed up with Colgate-Palmolive for the event to teach kids about healthy dental hygiene. He was presented with a plaque from the company after leading an exciting cheer that drew loud screams from the kids: “When I say ‘Brush your teeth!’ you say ‘Twice a day!’”
“I do have four kids and know the importance of their dental health,” said Sabathia in an interview. “Growing up in the inner city, that’s something that’s not really put to the forefront. And I want to let the kids know it’s important not only now but for their future.”
Butler, the vice president at Colgate-Palmolive, echoed that sentiment. “We’re trying to reach children who are underserved,” she said. “It’s important to reach the children who would not have access to the care. Sometimes this is the first time they get exposure to the dental community.”
Erica Cornett, a teacher at P.S. 129, said she hoped her students would learn about taking care of their teeth the right way. “I hope they get over the fear of going to the dentist and see how important it is and how necessary,” she said. “Around our area we have shelters and it’s important to have access to any type of dental care.”
The event comes amid the national debate over health insurance and concern about potentially higher premiums.
“In general, health care costs are difficult and my guess is that dental care is sometimes forgotten,” said Peter Wiregard, an associate director at Colgate-Palmolive. However, he added. “Nobody should have cavities.”
Dr. Cary Wagner, 37, a dentist in Newburgh, N.Y. who was attending the Greater New York Dental Meeting, said dental visits could cost a “fortune” if patients don’t have insurance. “I increase our prices between 2 to 5 percent per year.” He added that not all trips to the dentist are expensive and that many offices in his area offer discounts, including $99 deals for hygiene visits.