KinderSmile, Parents Who Rock help refugees
Parents Who Rock
Saturday, Sept. 7, noon-5
Corner of Cedar Avenue
and High Street, across from
Free; donations welcome.
By GWEN OREL
The first time the Syrian family went for treatment at KinderSmile they were there for four hours.
There was no way to salvage some of the younger boys’ teeth. The mother and each of the four children had more than 10 cavities each.
“There was a lot of oral neglect,” said Dr. Nicole McGrath, founder of the KinderSmile Foundation, whose mission is to “provide underserved children with access to comprehensive dental care, and educate children and their families on the importance of dental hygiene.”
But she was determined to do what she could for them. She describes KinderSmile as a “dental home,” a place that is loving and safe. The family had Medicaid, but not many dentists will take it, and the recommendation had been to extract the teeth, because it’s cheaper than fillings and crowns.
And smiles are so important to confidence.
McGrath, a dentist, used to be in private practice in Montclair; she is now in Bloomfield. She began teaching about oral health to children in the schools and was surprised to see some children with black cavities. She opened her office on Wednesday mornings, letting the schools know she’d be happy to see children at no cost then.
One afternoon in 2007 a 5-year-old girl arrived at the office when she was not there. Her receptionist called her.
“It was a Montclair Head Start student,” McGrath said. “When I got to the office, this 5-year-old girl, let’s call her Zee, had an abscess the size of a golf ball in the side of her mouth. She leapt into my arms, saying ‘Dr. Nicole, Dr. Nicole.’ Her grandmother had brought her in, and had tried high and low to find a dentist to take her Medicaid insurance. No one would take her.”
The swelling had gone on for months. The child was unable to eat well or focus in school. McGrath was the family’s last resort.
It was a bacterial infection, and the little girl needed to be on antibiotics immediately. McGrath told the grandmother to come back when the regimen of Amoxicillin was done, or the process would start again.
“That night I tossed and turned. I fell to my knees. Tears came to my eyes. The Lord spoke to me, and KinderSmile was born,” McGrath said. The little girl recovered, never missed an appointment, and even assisted the dentist when she got to middle school. In 2014, McGrath turned to running her foundation full time. KinderSmile takes Medicaid, private insurance, and people with no insurance.
There are currently 13 employees, and seven dentists, as well as about 75 volunteer dental professionals and others who donate their services.
One volunteer who’s bringing smiles to a local Syrian family is Alma Schneider, of Parents Who Rock.
Playing with neighbors
Schneider met the Syrian refugee family (their names are withheld by request) living in New Jersey a few years ago when her synagogue, Montclair’s Bnai Keshet, asked if members would be willing to host a family for Thanksgiving.
“I drove to Roselle Park, picked up the family we’d never met, including four children, who’d only been in the U.S. a few months. None of them spoke any English. We used Google Translate,” Schneider recalled. The families bonded and kept in touch.
Then Schneider found out that the mother was in terrible pain, and the dentist wanted to keep pulling her teeth out.
“They didn’t have dental care, or education in Syria that promoted dental care,” Schneider said. She knew about KinderSmile through the Montclair Health and Wellness Committee.
And though KinderSmile typically only sees parents of children under 3 years old, McGrath made accommodations for this family.
The dental care they have provided “will allow these people to have the dignity of keeping their teeth. Few things can affect your self esteem more than having a terrible smile.
“The kids have a full life ahead of them. You don’t want to take a kid and pull out the front teeth. Having a poor smile can affect job interviews. People are embarrassed.”
Schneider helped organize a group of people to ferry the family to Bloomfield and back, since the father needed the car to work.
KinderSmile has made a big difference to the Syrian family. “They were so patient and compassionate, and they knew what they were doing,” said the mother, through a translator, “They gave us instructions on how to take care of our dental health. I had many problems in my front teeth. I couldn’t smile, but now I have gained confidence and happiness. We are very blessed and thankful, literally, for putting a smile on our faces.
The work that KinderSmile is providing is very expensive, Schneider noted. So this year, Parents Who Rock’s fall concert will benefit the foundation.
Schneider founded Parents Who Rock in 2005. Her son had recently been born and was diagnosed with the genetic disorder Prader-Willi syndrome, and Schneider was depressed. A friend told her reclaiming her creative side would help. Schneider was a musician by training, and as a teen had performed with her sister in the West Village.
She put together a show with some other parents, and decided to make it a fundraiser for victims of a tsunami in Thailand.
Today, Parents Who Rock does at least two shows a year, sometimes more. There was an emergency show following Hurricane Maria for Puerto Rican victims, Schneider said. They also do a tribute show every year to honor an artist or time period: once for “Elvis or Elvis” (Presley or Costello), another time for “one-hit wonders,” for example.
“I believe in the power of music to heal. There are lots of people in Parents Who Rock going through difficult times. It’s a way to regain your identity.”
It’s also a way to see neighbors in a new light — Schneider described with a laugh seeing a reserved elementary school teacher morph into Pat Benatar onstage — while helping neighbors out.
“Music is therapeutic,” Schneider said. “It’s exhilarating.”