Dr. David Oltmans' dental office normally is closed on Fridays. But last week more than a dozen children came in for a day of free dental care. About 6,000 other kids around Minnesota did the same in their communities.
Oltmans is among nearly 600 dentists and 2,000 dental hygienists, assistants and other staff members who donated their talents during the 10th annual Give Kids a Smile program Friday and Saturday.
It was a day of marathon teeth cleaning, dental exams, fillings, sealants -- and, yes, some dreaded extractions.
The project is part of a national campaign to help children who don't get regular dental care. Low-income families, in particular, face barriers, including language, transportation and inability to understand government dental programs.
Oltmans, whose office is in downtown Minneapolis, has volunteered for nine years.
"Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces, it's so rewarding,'' he said. "Even though they're at the dental office, they're having a good time.''
The Minnesota Dental Association project is unusual in its scope. It partners with Greater Twin Cities United Way to get the word out. It works with school districts to promote the event. And the number of participating dentists continues to grow, reaching a record 561 this year, said Carol Embertson, spokesperson for the Minnesota Dental Association.
Since Give Kids a Smile began, about 43,000 children have received free dental care, valued at more than $13.5 million. The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and Sharing and Caring Hands, a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, are particularly busy, Embertson said.
But even more kids could benefit. Dentists such as Oltmans say they are ready to do more. "We had time available in the afternoon that wasn't filled,'' he said.
Embertson urged anyone who knows families needing dental care to keep the program in mind. "It's the first weekend in February every year,'' she said.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511