Jake Woods wasn’t worried at all about seeing the dentist.
While he waited his turn, the third-grader calmly brushed the pearly whites of a stuffed gorilla toy with a super-sized toothbrush. One-by-one his classmates went to get their teeth X-rayed and then examined. When his turn came, Jake changed his tune about whether he was afraid or not.
“OK, maybe a little,” he said as he pinched two fingers together to show the size of his fear.
Jake was one of more than 80 students at Butler Elementary School to get their teeth examined for free earlier this week through the Children’s Volunteer Health Network’s Just for Grins Mobile Dental Clinic program.
The program, which is in its third year, provides on-site dental treatments to first- through third-grade students on the free lunch program at all elementary schools in Walton County, said Denise Johnston, program manager for the mobile dental clinic.
“The biggest thing is a lot of the children can’t go to the dentist and we want them to know the dentist is fun,” Johnston said. “We do a lot of education so they leave here knowing how to care for their teeth.”
The mobile clinic was scheduled to spend several days at Butler. After the initial exams, students needing more dental work were to be brought back. Some would have fillings, extractions or other dental procedures, Johnston said.
The program’s employees and volunteers worked with the children inside a recreational vehicle fitted with two dentist chairs. Dr. Jim Nabors, a retired dentist who advised the Children’s Volunteer Health Network as it began the dental program, examined the students’ teeth after Johnston X-rayed them.
“After I retired from my regular practice, I decided I needed to give back,” Nabors said during a break between students.
Another dentist, Dr. Gary Carosson, was to perform the actual dental procedures on the children.
In the last two years, Just for Grins has examined nearly 2,000 children and has participated in several community events to promote oral health, Johnston said.
“It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” said Johnston, who has been a dental hygienist for more than 30 years.
The students found the trips to the RV fun rather than scary, just as the program’s founders intended. A pile of stuffed animals, toys and books were available to the students while they waited. Smiles and laughter filled the small space.
“It’s pretty fun,” third-grader Emily Shrewsbury said as she waited her turn.
The Children’s Volunteer Health Network is a nonprofit faith-based group that was started in 2005 to meet the health care needs of children in Okaloosa and Walton counties. It has coordinated various health programs through a network of doctors who have volunteered their services, Executive Director Zach Billingsley said.