LINCOLN — Ryyean Hoppe of Norfolk, Neb., had been to the dentist only once before Friday.
And that time, the 7-year-old sat in the dentist's chair for a screening to see whether he qualified to receive free care from the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Dentistry at its annual children's Dental Day. He and his father rode a bus to Lincoln for Friday's daylong event.
Ryyean had some dental work done and was reminded to do better about brushing his teeth.
“This is very beneficial,” the boy's father, Robert Hoppe, said. “We don't have dental insurance.”
About 185 Nebraska children received free care and dental hygiene education at Friday's event, said David G. Brown, an organizer and executive associate dean of the UNMC College of Dentistry.
Children came from numerous cities, including Lincoln, Norfolk, Hastings, Grand Island, Lexington and Columbus. Fourteen Nebraska school districts provided bus transportation.
Since 2001, the College of Dentistry has hosted the event. About 300 volunteers signed up this year, and corporate donors gave $5,000 to make the free care possible, Brown said.
“The college devotes the entire day to the event,” Brown said. “(We give) the whole building, all the faculty and the students.”
The children range in age from 5 to 14, but the college makes exceptions in extreme cases for kids of other ages, Brown said.
The children are registered upon their arrival, after which dental students take them to a large room filled with stations that resemble office cubicles.
But instead of computers and desks, there are dentist chairs, drills and water flossers.
The children received an array of dental work Friday, from fluoride treatments, sealants and cleanings to extractions and even root canals. The work was done by third- and fourth-year dental students and residents.
These services are often unavailable to poor children living in rural areas, Hastings dentist Gary Lehn said.
Without fluoridated water in many areas and education on when children should see a dentist, Lehn — who was volunteering at his seventh Dental Day after finishing his residency last year — is seeing more dental problems in children of a younger age.
“We do a lot of cases where we have to put a crown on a 2-year-old because soft tissue decays into the bone,” Lehn said.
Bringing children in for cleaning and education ensures they won't encounter as many problems down the road, he said.
The dental college puts on a carnival to complement the event, where Brown said children learn about dental care and their teeth.
They play games to earn prizes such as sugar-free gum and battery-powered spinning toothbrushes.
First-year dental student Sam Bartlett led children in a game that showed them how to identify their teeth using pictures and a model of a person's mouth.
“The goal is to get them to think teeth are cool,” Bartlett said. “Once they do that, hopefully they'll take better care of them.”
That's Robert Hoppe's goal for his son, Ryyean.
“This really teaches him about how important it is to brush his teeth,” his father said.
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