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Comprehensive care will be offered at annual event

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FARMINGTON — Dr. Julius Manz, director of the dental hygiene program at San Juan College, has been with the school since it launched its annual free dental clinic in conjunction with National Give Kids a Smile Day 16 years ago.

He finds an enormous sense of satisfaction in the event — partly from having seen hundreds of economically disadvantaged children leave the clinic with greatly improved dental health, but also from the sense of camaraderie that develops between the dental health professionals who take part each year.

Even so, Manz believes more children could benefit from the event, which returns to the college from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 7. That's why organizers of the clinic have ramped up their efforts to reach out to the parents of potential patients, encouraging them to sign up their kids for the clinic.

"We've tended to struggle the last few years on filling up with patients," Manz said.

Manz said he hopes that is because local children are getting their dental health care needs met elsewhere. But those who are not are strongly encouraged to sign up for the clinic, which offers free dental care for children ages 5 to 12 from Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield, Shiprock and Kirtland.

The event is one of two local National Give Kids a Smile Day celebrations. The dental department at the Northern Navajo Medical Center on U.S. Highway 491 in Shiprock will also be offering a free clinic, complete with dental screenings, and sealant and fluoride applications. That event also will feature educational booths, healthy snacks and goodie bags.

Manz said organizers of the San Juan College event are trying to attract more patients this year by sending fliers promoting the event home with students from the Farmington Municipal School District, in addition to other outreach efforts.

"I think we'll fill it up," he said. "But we all know Farmington is a last-minute kind of town."

Approximately 50 patients are expected at the SJC event. College officials said more than $50,000 worth of dental work has been performed at the clinic in a single day in years past.

Those being served are required to register in advance for the clinic. Those calls are being fielded by the San Juan United Way, making it just one of several local organizations or businesses taking part in the effort.

The clinic also involves the work of the Northwest District Dental Society, the Farmington Boys & Girls Clubs, Subway restaurants, approximately 20 local dentists, 30 to 40 dental hygienists, 24 dental hygiene students from the college, seven to eight SJC faculty members and a number of dental assistants from practices around the county. Several orthodontists, endodontists and oral surgeons from the community have agreed to accept pro bono referrals from the clinic and will be providing services later.

"It is a great event for the community," Manz said.

The services offered at the clinic extend well beyond cleanings and examinations, he noted. The list includes X-rays, fillings, crowns and extractions, he said, explaining that some of the procedures are complicated. He said one patient treated at the event a few years ago had a cancerous tumor discovered in her jaw and received the services of an oral surgeon.

"We will be doing the whole gamut of care," he said.

Manz said the response from families who benefit from the clinic each year is always fantastic, and many parents bring their children to the event several years in a row.

He said the San Juan College dental hygiene students who take part get something valuable from it, too.

"It producers a number of benefits. It's a great learning experience," he said, explaining that his students are afforded the chance to work with young patients — something they don't normally do during their training — in a relatively hectic environment.

"They also get the experience of working with dentists in the community who are going to be their employers later on," he said, noting that the clinic gives students a chance to shine.

To make an appointment for the San Juan College clinic, call the San Juan United Way hotline at 505-326-4357 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Walk-in patients will not be seen during the event, and children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e

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