Local office sees biggest response ever to free dental care event

Area dentist's offices that participated in Give Kids a Smile Day, an annual event sponsored by the American Dental Association. Some older children actually called and made an appointment themselves. 

Posted on Feb. 7, 2014 at 5:03 p.m.

ELKHART — Juan Gonzalez, 18, hasn't been to the dentist in a long time because he doesn't have dental insurance. 

So when he heard that some local dentist's offices were giving away free dental care on Friday, Feb. 7, he decided to call and make an appointment. 

"I heard about this from a couple of friends, and that's why I'm here," Gonzalez said on Friday as he waited to get his teeth checked at Orange Door Dental Group in Elkhart. "I don't really know what to think, good or bad, about my teeth because I haven't gotten them checked."

Orange Door is one of several area dentist's offices that participated in Give Kids a Smile Day, an annual event sponsored by the American Dental Association. Children ages 18 and younger can get up to two hours of dental work for free. 

Connie Rose, office manager at Orange Door, said the event is for "kids in the crack" — children who don't have dental insurance through their parents' jobs and who also don't qualify for Medicaid. 

Orange Door was crowded on Friday with children who fit that description, and the office even had a few children on a waiting list. It's the biggest response the office staff has ever seen to the annual event. 

The nine staffers in the office Friday were working for free, as Orange Door was closed to regular paying customers. All of the staff chose to volunteer their time for the event.

"The staff gives their time, and I buy lunch and breakfast," Christiaan Willig, a dentist and owner of Orange Door, said Friday.

He said dental care for children and teens is important, and the families who show up for Give Kids a Smile Day really don't have another way to get their children in for checkups. 

"My theory is, a lot of times it's not the kids' fault that they are in the dental situation they are in," Willig said. "Sometimes, it's not the adults' fault either."

Rhonda Wilson of Elkhart said her 17-year-old daughter heard about the event at school and wanted to go.

"She really wanted her teeth cleaned, and I couldn't pay for it," Wilson said. "This is wonderful."

Diana Callihan brought her two grandsons, Luca Lambdin, 10, and Santino Lambdin, 7, to Orange Door on Friday as a favor to her daughter. 

"I think it's fantastic, because it's given an opportunity for my grandkids to get their teeth cleaned," Callihan said, adding that the boys' father is self-employed and dental insurance is expensive. 

Rose, the office manager, said that Obamacare may change some of these families' situations, and she's not sure what the future holds for Give Kids a Smile Day. 

"There will probably still be kids who fall through the cracks," she said. 

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