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PULSE.

Byline: - Andy Wang

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT

If fear is one of the top deterrents to visiting the dentist, lack of dental insurance may be the other. In fact, tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease, five times more common than asthma - and it's even worse among children of under-served communities. Since 2004, the Crest Smile Shoppe in the Challenger's Boys & Girls Club of Los Angeles has been rolling up its collective sleeves and doing something about it.

Sponsored by Crest and the only one of its kind in California, the Smile Shoppe offers free dental screenings and treatment to active members of the Boys & Girls Club, performing everything from regular checkups to oral surgery. In fact, Dr. Rebecca Pena, one of two dentists on staff at the Smile Shoppe, does so much that she's been jokingly referred to as the ``Super GP,'' for super general practitioner. (The only thing they don't do is braces.)

A couple of times a year, the Smile Shoppe also opens its doors and offers free screenings and treatments to all kids in the community, hoping to spread awareness about the importance of oral health.

While there are other low-cost dental clinics available to under-served communities, the Smile Shoppe is one of the few, if not the only, offering free care in the area. Its Cavity- Free Zone (also available in other Crest clinics) educates kids on the basics of oral health, teaching them, for example, what cavities look like and how to prevent them.

``Dentists are always associated with pain and doctors in white coats, so we try to get away from that with bright colors. We try to make visits fun,'' Pena said. It seems to be working. Two years after its opening, the Crest Smile Shoppe has seen tremendous improvement in the health of its patients' teeth and gums. Fear of going under the drill again, it seems, is often enough to get kids brushing properly and regularly. As for parents, Pena recommends getting over their own fear of white coats; the more inclined they are to take their families to the dentist, the more kids everywhere will be able to flash their pearly whites.

The Crest Smile Shoppe is located at the Challenger's Boys & Girls Club, 5029 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 971-6161.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 27, 2006
Words:395
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