They may have had to modify their outreach due to COVID-19, but members of the Suffolk Chapter of The Links Inc. were still able to bring smiles to about 340 Booker T. Washington Elementary School students Thursday by providing them dental kits to help them with their oral health.
In previous years, The Links has been able to bring with them the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures van to screen children and address them on proper oral hygiene during a school assembly. This year, the dental kits — a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and instructions on how to use them — were wrapped up to be delivered to the school to its counselor, Denise Singleton.
Dr. Gloria Johnson-Spruiell, a dentist who works with the Hampton Roads Community Health Center and is a health and human services facet chairwoman for the Suffolk Chapter of The Links, said the organization looks forward to being back in the school, but for now , its members are happy to continue helping children.
“We’re hopeful that we can return to our screening program, but until the vans can get back into the schools, we wanted to do something,” Spruiell said.
Vicki Wiggins-Pittman, president of the Suffolk Chapter of the Links, said she has seen the impact of the program since it was established in 2016. She said the program works well due to the strong collaboration it has with Suffolk Public Schools.
“We are affording families and children to grasp the importance of maintaining good health,” Wiggins-Pittman said. “This is a supportive effort that we do annually to support these children and their families, to encourage them that there are resources that are available, and we want to continue to have those resources utilized throughout the community.”
Katherine Davis, who co-chairs the Colgate Dental Screening Program, said providing the dental kits and access to dental care for children has been important to her. She had been working with a similar program in Pennsylvania before moving to the Suffolk area and noticing that it was a medically underserved area.
At that point, she got in touch with the Colgate Dental Screening Program to provide a van to help screen children. Since the program started six years ago, it has screened 1,100 children in elementary schools in its service area, which covers Suffolk, Isle of Wight County, Surry County, Southampton County and Franklin.
She said its partners, including the Obici Healthcare Foundation, the Delta Dental Foundation of Virginia and the Colgate Dental Screening Program, have all stepped up to help children with their oral health.
“These are kids, in fact, that when we screened some of them, they said they had never been to a dentist,” Davis said. “That’s the beauty of the program that we’re doing. The other thing I found with the Suffolk area, is that where I lived in the Philadelphia area, there were far more resources, so what we were able to do is to supply a resource that probably was not here before, which is getting these children into dental care.”
Singleton said she appreciates the support of The Links, and though the students won’t be able to sit in the dentist’s chair in the van, the dental kits are the next best thing.
“We miss them being able to come into the building, sure,” Singleton said. “But this will be a tremendous pleasure for us to be able to pass out the packets to all of our students here.”
Spruiell said she is looking to continue dental screenings in the future through the Hampton Roads Community Health Center, which would, along with the Colgate van, provide them to the low-income children The Links serves.
In the interim, they all wanted to do something special for children in February during National Kids Dental Health Month, with the Delta Dental Foundation donating 3,000 toothbrushes, 1,000 tubes of toothpaste and 1,000 dental floss packets.
“For us to be able to get into the schools to provide dental education, provide kits for them to be able to brush their teeth and know how to, it keeps it first and foremost in their minds that I need to take care of my teeth (and) I need to take care of my mouth,” Spruiel said. “So us getting in here, providing our toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, dental instructions, inside their little packet, it brings forth the idea that I can’t forget about my teeth. I need to be able to continue taking care of my teeth and doing what we need to do for dental health.”