Though snow fell steadily on Monday afternoon, it wasn’t Santa Clause who paid the children of La Porte a visit. Children were greeted instead by the tooth fairy at HealthLinc Dental (400 Teegarden St. La Porte, IN) as part of the Give Kids A Smile Day event, which provided no-cost oral exams, sealants, dental cleanings, and fluoride treatments to qualifying individuals under age 18.
The American Dental Association began Give Kids A Smile Day in 2003 as a national initiative to help low-income children receive dental care. Since its inception, the event continues to benefit approximately 450,000 children a year in more than 1,500 events nationwide. HealthLinc’s mission is to improve its communities by expanding access to exceptional health care. Their emphasis on compassionate whole-person care is what makes Give Kids A Smile such a great fit. Located right next to the new hospital, HealthLinc La Porte has a convenient location for the La Porte community.
“Today is a fun day,” said Angie McClead, Site Operations Director for HealthLinc La Porte. “This event is really geared toward making sure uninsured or underinsured children receive the dental care they need, though we’re seeing patients who do have insurance as well. Everyone is welcome for a checkup today!”
The lobby was filled with fun activities to help kids learn about their teeth and the importance of dental care.
“We have some fun activities going on, some coloring and giveaways for the kids,” McClead said. “They get to come in and learn about their teeth, meet the tooth fairy, and get excited about their oral health before coming back to see our hygienists and get examined by the dentist.”
It’s not uncommon for children to feel a bit apprehensive about visiting the dentist’s office, but HealthLinc is hoping that events like Give Kids A Smile Day will help change their perception and establish life-long healthy habits.
“Oral health is very important overall, but especially when it comes to younger kids,” McClead said. “A lot of times people can develop anxiety about the dentist as they get older, causing them to put their oral health on the back burner. If we can connect with kids early on, get them in a routine, their dentist will become a familiar face - someone they like and want to come see. They’ll be more likely to keep up with their cleanings and take care of their teeth at home.”
HealthLinc also has certified navigators on site who can look into health coverage plans for patients without insurance and assist them with enrolling in the right plan.
“Our navigators are here to help our patients not only during today’s event but any time a patient needs help,” McClead said. “They look into what is available, and guide our uninsured patients toward plans that would be appropriate for their family.”
Kelly Owens, Licensed Dental Hygienist, was in full support of the day’s activities, excited to provide kids with the care they need.
“I love today because there are kids out there who wouldn’t normally have access to this type of care, but today we can give them exactly what they need,” Owens said.
According to Owens, bad oral health habits often stem from children’s parents or grandparents, who may have lacked access to dental care themselves.
“We see a lot of young adults who potentially need dentures in their 20s, and think it’s just the way it is because their parents experienced the same thing,” Owens explained. “I tell them all the time that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we can start from where we are and still give their teeth the best care possible. They don’t have to follow the same path if they’re willing to establish good habits.”
Though there’s never a bad time to start taking oral health seriously, Owens maintains that the earlier good habits are formed in life, the better, and Give Kids A Smile Day drives that mission forward.
“It’s better to start when they’re little, get kids in the habit of brushing and flossing and not hooked heavily on pop and juices,” she said. “I always say it’s better to keep your teeth healthy from the start than to go back and fix them later.”
So far this year HealthLinc has donated over $27,000 worth of services at Give Kids A Smile events and will add to that total at their HealthLinc Michigan City (710 Franklin St., Michigan City, IN) Give Kids A Smile event on February 26 from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. Give Kids A Smile Day is just one way HealthLinc La Porte is positively impacting the community. Their connected medical facility provides patients with a variety of care options that go beyond dental care.
“Each month we take a different health focus and schedule events or awareness campaigns to promote those topics. A lot of times the topics are things that people don’t necessarily want to address, but really need to get done for the sake of their health,” McClead said. “We try to incorporate fun days and events to encourage community members to come in and take care of their health.”
“On the medical side, we have two family nurse practitioners, a behavioral health therapist, and a midwife,” McClead said. “We have six exam rooms including a procedure room, labs for bloodwork, and a community room for presentations and conferences. We’re small but intimate, and love providing our patients with that close environment.” To learn more about HealthLinc La Porte, visit https://healthlincchc.org/la-porte/