INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t anything like the average dentist visit.
Indianapolis Colts players lined up outside Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, their practice facility, to give high fives and hugs to youngsters piling off school buses. A disc jockey with two big screens played pounding dance tunes and coached young students to chant “two and two!” to remind them to brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day.
Nicole Van Le, a dentist with Village Dentistry in Greenfield, which opened in January, joined some 120 dental professionals at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center who volunteered to provide free dental care to 300 students who attend Cold Spring School, a school with students from kindergarten to sixth grade in the Indianapolis Public Schools district.
The event, organized by national nonprofit Team Smile, arranged for students who would not otherwise be able to receive dental care to take a short bus trip to the practice facility, where they received free dental care ranging from a basic teeth cleaning to more complex procedures, including fillings, root canals and extractions. The organization provided about $18,000 in dental care on Tuesday, officials said.
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Team Smile, co-founded 11 years ago by dentist Dr. Bill Busch in Kansas City, Missouri, connects professional sports organizations with dental professionals in their area to provide much-needed dental care to students in under-served areas. Busch created the organization after he heard a story on national news about a 12-year-old boy whose toothache went untreated because his mother couldn’t afford to take him to the dentist. The abscessed tooth became infected and the boy died, said executive director John McCarthy.
Looking around the Colts facility at the hundreds of students receiving free dental care from professionals volunteering their time felt great, Busch said. A semi-trailer packed with dental equipment was unloaded the night before to make the job easier, he said.
“It’s like a big dental tailgate party,” he said. “Having the players, and the support of the team as well, creates excitement for the kids, and that’s our special recipe.”
Busch, McCarthy and other leaders of the organization were shocked young people in the United States were dying from health problems that can be prevented, like an infected tooth. They resolved to help uninsured families provide dental care to their children.
Since its inception, the organization has provided some $15 million in free dental care to students ranging in age from 3 to 18, McCarthy said. In addition to cleanings and other procedures, the 300 students also received a backpack with toothbrushes, toothpaste and information about dental hygiene.
In the treatment area, Van Le peered in students’ mouths, determining which students would receive a cleaning and which students required more procedures. The dentist, whose practice also runs an office in the Lawrence area, has volunteered with Team Smile for about five years, she said. Several staff members, including dental assistant Jennifer Platts and volunteers from the Greenfield Elks Lodge No. 1720, donated their time to the event as well.
The local Elks lodge also donated $1,000 toward the event at the Colts facility, said lodge member Dee Carmichael.
Poor dental health can negatively affect students’ overall well-being, Van Le said.
“A lot of kids have pain that might affect their performance in the classroom or how they feel in their social circle,” Van Le said. “Providing dental care boosts their confidence and helps them achieve more.”
After the dentists and dental assistants completed cleanings or other procedures, they dismissed the students to take part in a dance party hosted by the DJ, have their faces painted or play games on the Colts’ practice field with players and team staff members.
The ultimate goal of the organization is to connect students with a dentist in the area to provide regular dental care, he said. A clinical director maintains records of the procedures done and helps the children treated find a dentist, he said.
Providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet professional athletes while also seeing to students’ oral health creates a positive impression on youngsters, he said.
“The pairing of sports and nonprofit organizations works,” he said. “We see it over and over.”
- Founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 2006
- Provides free dental care to students age 3 to 18 around the county
- Pairs professional sports teams with volunteers from area dentists
- 125 events throughout the country
- $15 million in free dental care provided
11: years since Team Smile started providing free dental care with the help of professional sports teams
$18,000: free dental care provided through Team Smile on Tuesday
300: Indianapolis students who received cleanings and other procedures Tuesday
120: volunteer dental professionals who provided care
$15 million: in dental care provided for free by Team Smile
125: events like Tuesday’s across the country hosted by Team Smile