AMELIA, Ohio -- Going to the dentist can be scary, but 11-year-old Gauge White is all smiles when he sees Dr. Jim Pierce at the Amelia East Family Dentistry.
February is Children's Dental Health Month, according to the American Dental Association, and Pierce has been working for 25 years to make sure every child in Clermont County has the same access to oral health care as Gauge does.
On one day each year, Pierce takes dozens of young pro bono clients -- those who might not otherwise be able to afford dental care -- and helps them get a head-start on good oral health.
"Education is a big part of it," he said. "Fixing the teeth is definitely important, but if we can prevent it from happening, that's what we're about."
The children come to Dr. Pierce through the organization Child Focus, which provides childcare before and afterschool, head start and early head start services in Clermont County. It's health and special education manager, Karen Balon, says the organization serves up to 600 kids in head start, and up to 40% of those will need dental treatment.
"It's terribly sad," Balon said. "The pain they may be experiencing. You can imagine how awful that must be."
The goal is to make sure both children and parents have the tools they need to maintain health habits through the rest of child's life. That can include cleanings, extractions and fillings on the day-of as well as helping schedule appointments for future procedures, which will also be provided at no cost.
"Educating parents about preventative care is so important," Balon added. "Getting little ones off the bottle, what are you putting in your sippy cup, introducing fluoridated toothpaste."
In the 25 years since Pierce began providing these services -- as do thousands of other dentists through the ADA's Give Kids a Smile Program -- Pierce said he had seen marked improvements in patients who continued to see him afterward. Once people know how to take care of themselves and their children, he said, they usually do.
"I feel like I've been blessed with a lot of things in my lifetime, and being able to help kids who need the help (is one of them)," he said. "A lot of times, the parents don't know where to turn, and I don't want them to get lost in the system. I want them to find a place and take care of them and get them to a healthy place."