Anthony Zhang was 4 years old when he and his younger brother, Aiden, left their grandparents’ home in China to be reunited with his parents, Selina and Kevin, who had immigrated to Colorado a couple of years ahead of him. The reunion was joyful, but as his parents soon discovered, the tears Anthony was shedding weren’t all happy ones. Six-teen of the toddler’s 20 teeth were badly decayed and Anthony was in excruciating pain.
Pediatric dental care in China isn’t readily available, his mother explains, adding that while she knew that her son’s teeth needed attention sooner than later, the cost – an estimated $7,000 to $10,000 – was something they simply could not afford given the fact they’d just lost everything in a fire that had destroyed the house in which they were living.
Relief came when the Adams County Foundation referred the family to Kids in Need of Dentistry. KIND arranged for Anthony to be evaluated by volunteer dentist Chris-tine Isaacs of Aloha Dental, who recommended immediate treatment in order to save as many of his teeth as possible. She also recommended that the procedures be performed under sedation to make the experience less traumatic for Anthony.
Another of KIND’s volunteer partners, Dr. Liz Crespi of Sunrise Pediatric Dentistry and a team from Care-Point Anesthesia then spent approximately four hours performing four root canals, three extractions, and installing nine crowns and six fillings.
Anthony and his parents were thrilled with the outcome.
“When Anthony and his brother arrived in Colorado, he was crying and holding his mouth,” recalls KIND’s executive director, Ellie Burbee. “His pain was that severe.” Within days, if not hours, of this extensive dental work Anthony was once again a happy child, laughing and playing and thriving.
KIND also organized a drive that raised a little over $2,000 that was used to purchase gift cards for the family to use in replacing household items that had been destroyed in the fire.
KIND was established in 1912 by what is now the Metro Denver Dental Society to serve children whose parents worked in coal mines and for the railroads. Its $1.3 million operating budget is funded by Medicaid and insurance reimbursements, grants from foundations, public health entities and school districts, and fundraising events like the annual Strokes of KINDness golf tournament and the Expressions of KINDness gala.
In 2019 this “Scrappy team of health-equity warriors” dedicated to providing low-cost, high-quality dental care that is respectful of and responsive to the specific cultural needs of the communities it serves delivered $1,098,232 in free or deep-ly discounted dental work to 12,773 children in the greater Denver area. KIND’s mobile hygiene program visited 105 elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods to offer oral health screenings and administer preventative dental sealants that protect tooth enamel from acids that cause decay.
“Our goal is to make sure people understand how important good dental health is,” Burbee explains. “And we always want that first contact (with a dental professional) to be positive so that we can change the perception that dental care is scary.
”She cites an American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry study that found that more than one million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness and that students with poor oral health are more likely to suffer pain that causes them to be irritable, withdrawn or unable to concentrate, thus interfering with eating, speaking and learning.
The Colorado Children’s Campaign's recent Kids Count survey revealed that one in every four Colorado kids are not receiving the dental care they need, resulting in 7.8 million lost school hours state-wide.
For those reasons, Burbee says, “We don’t just say, ‘Oh, you’ve got tooth decay,’ and expect the families to figure out what to do about it. We follow through.
”Colorado’s “Safer at Home” response to the COVID-19 crisis gave KIND’s board and staff an opportunity to come up with more “creative and diligent” ways of reaching clients impacted by school closures and to examine how to better integrate dental services into primary and mental healthcare delivery. “We must not trade one health crisis for another,” Burbee notes.
“Denver Public Schools and the Adams 12 district provided funding for us to reach kids remotely in hygienist-based virtual environments,” Burbee said.
“We also established a presence in their drive-through meal programs where we’d be masked and gloved to hand out kits containing a tooth-brush, floss, toothpaste, and a list of foods that are good for them. We also gave the kids bubbles and sidewalk chalk to get them outside” for fresh air and exercise.
And, if anyone indicated their child was experiencing dental pain, the volunteers would take a look and then set up a virtual visit” where a KIND dentist could make a diagnosis and proceed with any necessary care.
“We are feeling overwhelmed but excited by the way things are going,” Burbee said. “While the future is uncertain, this much is for sure: there will be an increased need for KIND’s services. And so long as social distancing is necessary, we will need to expand things like tele-dentistry."
Kids in Need of Dentistry
2465 S. Downing St.Suite 210
Denver CO 80210
Oral Health Centers providing dental and orthodontic care are located at:
4201 E. 72nd Ave., Commerce City
3401 Eudora St., Denver
925 Lincoln St., Suite B, Denver
2125 E. LaSalle Drive, Colorado Springs
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