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Raymond Pearsell, who is 4 years old, no longer holds his cheeks in his hands in pain.

He’s now much happier, plays outside and eats everything, said his mother, Crystal Brown.

Before Raymond’s teeth were seen by a dentist, Brown, 24, knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know what.

Her attempts to find a dental practice that would accept both of her children were unsuccessful, and Raymond went without badly needed care. That is, until Brown met a woman from University Pediatric Dentistry during one of the city’s Clean Sweep events in her neighborhood near Broadway and Bailey Avenue.

Within six days, Raymond, or “Ray-Ray,” was having oral surgery to correct numerous issues, including a tooth that was cracked down to the nerve.

The severity of the community’s dental health problem has come to light during Clean Sweep events, which are attended by the University at Buffalo’s Smile Team, an outreach of the School of Dental Medicine.

In order to connect more children and adolescents such as Brown’s with dental care, the city, UB’s department of pediatric and community dentistry and others will spend a year reaching out to at-risk populations and shoring up the availability of affordable dental care.

“Ray-Ray’s story is something we live every day,” said Dr. Paul R. Creighton, interim chairman of the department.

Creighton, co-chairman of the 15-member task force, is also president of University Pediatric Dentistry, which has also been screening and treating underprivileged children in city schools beginning in 2011-12. Of the children who have participated, nearly 60 percent required some form of restorative care, such as repairing damaged teeth, filling cavities or oral surgery.

The importance of dental care to a child’s overall health isn’t always known in low-income neighborhoods, and children there have barriers to obtaining dental services, officials stressed in announcing the new task force at an event Tuesday at University Pediatric Dentistry on Main Street near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Children whose teeth hurt have trouble concentrating in school, and are absent from school more often, said Mayor Byron W. Brown.

In addition to the city’s Clean Sweep events – during which the UB Smile Team has distributed 8,000 dental kits over the last five years and linked 2,000 people to dental providers – outreach will also take place in Buffalo’s public schools.

Tooth decay is preventable, said Dr. Michael Glick, dean of the UB School of Dental Medicine. “It doesn’t need to happen,” he said, “but it does.”

email: jterreri@buffnews.com