Just like pulling teeth? A trip to the dentist isn't all that bad -- as WVU 4-H program shows

·2 min read

Jul. 29—Zip the "toothless hillbilly " jokes, if you don't mind. West Virginia's poor dental health is nothing to smile about.

Cavities can turn into cardiac issues later in life and lead to other conditions, if left untreated.

The Mountain State, much maligned for its crooked teeth, and gaps where teeth should be, is an example of that.

West Virginia is constantly near the bottom of quality of life rankings regarding dental health, or the lack thereof. And residents are paying the medical price because of the correlation.

A lot of it comes down to gaps in insurance and affordability, as medical treatments of any kind cost money.

Socioeconomics aside, the one big reason, perhaps, people don't want to open up and say aah in the dentist chair is universal.

They're scared.

That's an awfully big needle.

I don't like the way that drill is looking at me.

You're gonna do what ?

Which is why Heather and Keef have bitten off a lot of responsibility this month.

That's Heather Tanton, a program assistant in the WVU Extension Service who works with the service's 4-H Youth Development division.

And Keef the Dragon, a future fire-breather who still has all his baby teeth.

"Keef's my buddy, " Tanton said of the instructional prop she uses on outreach visits. "All the kids love Keef."

The dental duo has had a busy month, making the rounds as they were, across Monongalia County's school district during the Summer Avalanche learning enrichment program, which wrapped up Thursday.

It was all part of the "Save your Smile !" awareness program offered up by the West Virginia Dental Health Coalition.

"We were awarded a mini-grant from the coalition and we hit the county, " Tanton said.

Hands-on activities showed exactly how a cavity is filled during that appointment in the dentist's chair you kept putting off—to all the things you can put in your lunch bag and on the dinner table to stave off cavities in the first place.

For example: If you drink soda like water—don't.

"Pop's not good for your health anyway, " Tanton said. "And it's especially not good for your teeth."

Participants each received a book and dental hygiene kit to take home.

Keef didn't breathe any fire—but he smiled a lot. And he gave Tanton something to smile about, too, she said.

"At the end, I'd always ask, 'So, who wants to be a dentist ? There were always lots of hands going up."

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