Children without dental insurance came to the Kool Smiles office in Southwest Baltimore Sunday with cavities, gum damage and other mouth maladies.
They were treated and sent home with brushing and flossing advice — but no bill.
Dentists and hygienists from Kool Smiles' five local offices spent the day cleaning teeth, filling cavities and pulling teeth for free at the Westside Shopping Center location, in an event dubbed "Sharing Smiles Day."
"Dental care is very important because it is an indication of your whole bodily health, so we want to provide the care for the children to meet their needs," said Dr. Jane Whang, area dental director for Kool Smiles.
The company doesn't charge indigent families in emergencies, Whang said, but the day focused on preventative care and dental education for parents and their children.
In many cases, she said, "it's not that they don't care. It's that they don't know."
Kool Smiles has held two of these events in the past two years, and officials hope to make it an annual event. Volunteer work is a priority at the company, Whang said; it also plans to sponsor mission trips for five of its dentists in Ecuador and other countries that lack the level of care available in the United states.
Yanixa Murillo, 9, of Lakeland, had baby teeth pulled and a cavity filled. She left with cotton in her mouth and a little wooziness from the pain drugs, but she clutched three smiley face toys, prizes for being a model patient.
"She didn't scream or nothing," said Jesenia Caceres, Murillo's 17-year-old cousin, who took her to the event. "They were nice. They told her she did a great job."
Zan Haskins and Meaza Erome, hygienists who volunteered Sunday, said they enjoyed the chance to treat underserved children and teach them and their parents lessons on proper brushing, flossing and other dental habits.
"There are a lot of patients that need a lot of work done," Haskins said. "It's nice to do something for people who can't afford it."
Some of the children had never been to the dentist before, Whang said.
The office, which brims with bright colors, is decorated to be as kid-friendly as possible. Bunches of helium balloons were tied to chairs in the waiting room.
Paper stars on the wall denote the children who are cavity-free. Some parents have to pull their kids from the play set and the video games in the corner of the waiting room to take them to the dentist's chair.
Dr. Rashmi Deshpande, a Kool Smiles dentist who lives in Ellicott City, brought her daughter, Anoushka Rath, and her friend, Riya Rai, both 8, to assist for the day.
"It is volunteer work," Deshpande said. "It's good for them to learn early on to give back. They were very excited."
Rath, a student at Worthington Elementary School, said she and Rai had a chance to experiment with a cavity-filling solution, a thick lotion-like substance that hardened under an ultraviolet light.
"My mom showed us the tools they use," she said.
The girls got to put on surgical masks and dentist's gloves and help take notes during the dental exams.
"We got to look close up," Rai said.
Rosalia Iancu brought her 5-year-old daughter to have a tooth removed Sunday afternoon.
She had heard about the event recently when they went to Kool Smiles' East Baltimore location at North Broadway and North Avenue.
Iancu needed no convincing to come to the southwest side of the city for treatment.
"Somebody told me free — OK!" she said.