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Rotary Club of Roseville started the program in 2000

Roseville, Calif. – One by one, kindergartners at George Cirby Elementary School approached Dr. Kayla Nguyen and opened their mouths as she peered in with magnifier glasses and a tongue depressor, searching for signs of cavities, abscesses or infection.

“Remember to brush your teeth. Have your parents help you,” she’d remind each one as they hopped off the chair and went back to their teacher and classmates a few feet away.

Miles of Smiles is a volunteer-run program providing screenings and referrals for students in Roseville. Nguyen visits classrooms to screen students in kindergarten, second and fifth grades and refers those with urgent needs to local dental providers. Second and fifth graders also receive dental sealants.

The Rotary Club of Roseville started the program in 2000 in two elementary schools. Miles of Smiles now reaches six schools and has provided more than 9,200 sealants in its nearly two decades of existence. With the help of a $10,000 infusion from Placer County, approved by county the Board of Supervisors in September, it will further expand to two middle schools in the coming year, reaching at least 200 more children each year.

“We have seen a dramatic improvement in the dental health of the kids in second and fifth grades, and we look forward to reaching older children as well,” said Ruth Burgess, a Rotary member who founded the program.

The middle school students will be screened and some will receive dental sealants, which protect tooth enamel and prevent decay. Children with poor oral health often experience pain, chewing difficulty, malnutrition and low self-esteem.

As Miles of Smiles expands to reach older children, Placer County’s Oral Health Program is simultaneously targeting children 5 and under, before they reach school age. More than 40 percent of children across the state have already experienced dental decay by the time they enter kindergarten.

“Together with community partners like Rotary we’re trying to support and keep kids healthy from birth all the way into adulthood,” said county Public Health Officer Dr. Rob Oldham.

Nguyen, the Rotary volunteer who conducts the Miles of Smiles screenings, is a dentist with A+ Dental Care who said she loves working with students.

“I just think it’s a great service for our community. There’s a definite need,” she said. “What keeps me coming back is I just see more and more kids with need.”

When one boy refused to get a screening, Burgess and Nguyen got down on their knees on the floor next to him, gently reassuring him and coaxing him to open his mouth.

“See, that was alright. Great job!” Nguyen said when she was done.

He nodded, and turned back to his classmates.

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