It was dental day at the Paterson Head Start as dozens of unsuspecting young children received their semi-annual check-up inside a bright red fire truck.
Local dentist Robert Grunstein, from Smile Central Dental, performed the check-ups in an effort to encourage dental health and hygiene targeting low-income communities, at the Cecile Dickey Center on Monday morning.
“They don’t even realize they’re having their teeth screened because they’re so amused with what he brings,” said Nancy Griner, director of Head Start at the Greater Bergen Community Action. “It’s a free service for the children in Paterson Head Start.”
Grunstein screened each of the children individually inside the fire truck while “Frozen” played in the background further distracting the youngsters. The dentist also brought his sidekick doctor Snickers.
“Dr. Snickers is a therapy dog that we purchased to work with kids. I have a lot of patients who have autism, down-syndrome and special needs children who respond really well to the animal and work better to the animal than to me,” said Grunstein. “Snickers can break through to the children faster than I can so when they come in, they see the truck, they see the dog, and I become a little less visible and so it’s more of an experience rather than a dental visit.”
During the wait some students were fearful of the procedure, including three-year-old Maliyah Jackson. After the check-up she pronounced she was no longer afraid of seeing a dentist.
“In the truck, he’s doing a dental screening, and he’s checking children’s teeth to see if they have any cavities or if they need any special cleanings or treatments and then we refer them to his office. Then he’ll do the treatment at his office if necessary,” said Gail Saile, associate director of special services at the Greater Bergen Community Action.
Grunstein’s office is based out of Paterson. He recently opened an office in Jersey City. Smile Central Dental and Head Start have collaborated for nearly six years to meet the federal health requirements needed for the children’s future development.
Parents are encouraged to participate in their child’s dental screenings, but there were no parents present. In order to help parents become more aware of their child’s dental health, a dental report card is logged onto a form provided by Head Start. Later, the report is sent home with each student’s dental records.
Grunstein found students with dental pathology, several cavities, and baby bottle syndrome. With an office less than five miles away from the Head Start office on East 35th Street, students have in office access after examination.
Grunstein has been bringing dental hygiene to not just Paterson children, but to children in other states and the broader world. “A few times we’ve done rural projects where we’ve actually gone out to Kentucky and had clinics for a while. I’ve gone all over the world, more specifically, South America and Africa. We did the same type of work.”