Healthy gums and mouth a top priority at ninth annual health fair
Nicholas Graves, 4, escapes out the back window of the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association's Fire Safety House during a demonstration at the Walnut Street Community Health Center's ninth annual health fair. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / August 11, 2012)
A step inside revealed a computer and screen with enticing children’s characters.
But this was no cross-country jaunt in a motor home. A glance to the left or the right revealed dental chairs and instruments.
It was the Healthy Smiles In Motion dental van, just one of the many free attractions Saturday at the Walnut Street Community Health Center’s ninth annual health fair.
Pediatric dentist Ilaya Rajagopal greeted children with a smile and friendly chatter inside the van, then proceeded performing oral exams. Many times throughout the morning-long event, the results were concerning. This time, it was a 2-year-old with eight cavities.
Rajagopal, known to patients as “Dr. Raj,” said cavities are the No. 1 chronic disease among children in the United States, outnumbering fevers or the common cold. They are especially common among the low-income demographic. That’s why he is committed to providing education, he said.
“We really encourage people to begin caring for children’s teeth as soon as teeth appear,” he said. “We provide exams and education, and encourage people to follow up with dental visits.”
Rajagopal said many people don’t worry about baby teeth because they figure they will fall out anyway. As a result, children end up developing extensive cavities that require hospitalization and general anesthesia to treat. Not to mention pain and anxiety in the meanwhile, and transmission of bacteria to adult teeth.
Samantha Catir, 26, of Hagerstown, said she attends the health fair each year and has learned important lessons in doing so. Her son, Alexander Catir, 3, had six cavities. His treatment entailed hospitalization and follow up at the clinic. She said Dr. Raj has impressed upon her the importance of regular oral care and basically “saved (her son’s) life.”
“If you get germs in your mouth, they can get into your gums, get into your bloodstream and then go into your heart,” she said. “Germs can cause all kinds of infections if you don’t keep your mouth clean.”
Catir said she is committed now to better brushing daily, as well as flossing and rinsing.
Cherie Clippinger, quality assurance manager at the clinic, helps coordinate the health fair. Clippinger said the clinic hosts the fair to educate the public and to make people aware of services that are available.
“Many people are unaware of how to get their health care needs met,” she said. “We are taking new patients. We want to reach out to people who are looking for primary care, dental care and mental health care.”
More than 30 vendors attended the event, including representatives from Meritus Health, Washington County Health Department and Teens Have Choices. Walnut Street offered free screenings as well as raffle drawings for backpacks and school supplies.
Clippinger said a favorite at the event was a fire safety house. Families made their way through the exhibit considering escape plans for their own homes.
Sandy Benbow, 26, of Clear Spring, said she said found resources for dealing with troubled youths.
Leona Banloan of Hagerstown, a repeat visitor to the fair, attended with her four daughters and her granddaughter.
“I just like the atmosphere, the programs for the children. I like how they have information about all the different health things you need to know about,” she said.
Banloan said she was especially interested in information about good nutrition and avoiding junk food.