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Bringing a smile
Mobile dental clinic makes an Effingham County stop
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6-year-old Timeshia Garvin waits for her two older brothers to finish their dental checkup from the Help a Child Smile crew. Garvin had a teeth cleaning and received a “no cavities” sticker. - photo by Photo by Angela Mensing

The Help a Child Smile mobile unit returned to Effingham County on Monday for its six-month visit, offering parents and young adults a variety of comprehensive dental care options behind the Department of Family and Children Services office in Springfield.

Beginning at 9 a.m., a licensed dentist, a certified hygienist, two assistants and an x-ray technician stood ready to see patients ranging in ages 3-21. Melissa Heath, the HCS mobile unit manager, said they expected to see about 20 patients.

HCS accepts Medicaid and PeachCare for qualified children and accepts many other insurance plans as well. Even parents who don’t have insurance have options.

According to Heath, they offer reduced costs.

“Cash pays, we give them the Medicaid rate, and we work with them on their cash payments,” she said.

Although parents could make an appointment, walk-ups also were welcomed.

Effingham resident Yolanda Garvin brought three of her children for their six-month exams.

“It’s a great experience; you don’t have to go and sit in a dentist’s office for hours,” she said.

Although Garvin usually takes her children to another local dentist, she had heard about the program and
decided to check it out.

“I’ll definitely bring my kids back,” she said.

Dr. Mark Shurett of Conyers started HCS in 1993 after 14 years of private dental practice. Heath said Shurett began going to group homes, wanting to help more children.

“He had a vision,” Heath said. “He tried it, it worked and here we are 12 mobiles later.”

Each mobile unit is equipped with a x-ray machine, a small dark room, a x-ray developing machine, two teeth-cleaning chairs and two “op-chairs” for patients who need cavities filled.

“We’ll go to apartment complexes, health departments, group homes and during the school year, schools,” Heath said.

Currently the program serves more than 70 counties in Georgia and plans visits on a six-month rotation schedule.

In most of those counties, the visits are held at local schools, giving parents the option of giving HCS permission to take care of their child’s dental needs without the child having to leave school or the parents having to take time off work.

“We try to be as convenient to the parents as we can,” Heath said.

According to Jeff Godwin, manager of HCS Client Relations: “Our primary patient base is the school systems.”

Because the program is designed to provide access to children who don’t normally have access, utilizing schools where transportation has already been provided makes things easier for parents, Godwin said. There is no cost to the schools to participate.

HCS contacted the Effingham County Board of Education late last year, but has not heard back from them as of yet.

“We like to give them some time to get back to us as things can be very busy at the school board,” Godwin said.

He says they plan to contact the school board again at the beginning of the next school year.

The HCS mobile unit was originally scheduled to be in Effingham both Monday and today; however, they did not get enough appointments to stay for Tuesday. They head to a group home in Sylvania next.