Alhadnoh Karanga - The Biggest Smile Ever

Alhadnoh Karanga is smiling again, after free care and education from the Chandler Children’s Dental Clinic saved his mouth from severe decay.

No one slept a wink at the Karanga home, because six-year-old Alhadnoh spent the night screaming in pain.“I didn’t know what was wrong—why his mouth hurt so badly,” recalls Vincent, his father. “And I didn’t know where to get help. I was jobless. I didn’t have any money. If you’d asked me for a dollar, I wouldn’t have been able to give it to you.”

Fortunately, an early-morning internet search led Vincent to the Chandler Children’s Dental Clinic at the Chandler CARE Center—a school-based family resource center that provides the poor and underserved with free access to vital health care services. The program is supported in large part by Dignity Health Foundation – East Valley and other community partners.He arrived just a few hours later, carrying exhausted Alhadnoh in his arms.“It was heartbreaking,” recalls Diana Westphal, Clinic Coordinator. “

The clinic schedule was full that day. But this child was in unbearable pain. Of course we were going to see him, and help him.”“When they said they would treat my son, I thought I was going to cry,” Vincent recalls. “I felt so much pain in my heart,” he explains, “because I’m a man. How am I unable to care for my son? But here, I was treated with so much respect, it made me want to cry with gratitude.”

A dental exam revealed 12 areas of bad decay. “More than half of his mouth had suffered severe decay,” Diana explains. “For example, with one molar, about three-quarters of it was gone.”On that first visit, the clinic team was able to perform some very basic oral hygiene, take x-rays, and arrange a next-day appointment with a dentist who would, at no charge, provide extensive repairs that were beyond what the clinic could accomplish.

When Alhadnoh returned to the clinic a few days later, “it was so wonderful to see his happy, smiling face,” Diana recalls. “He seemed to be a completely different child from who visited us the first time.”

Yet the clinic staff knew their work with Alhadnoh and Vincent was far from over. That’s because, in addition to restoring Alhadnoh’s oral health, they also needed to educate his family about good oral hygiene practices. “We want to teach and change the patients and the parents,” says Diana. “The goal is to become a team, because it takes time to change habits.”

In fact, when the Karanga family immigrated to the United States from Kenya, they brought with them some traditions that were harmful to young Alhadnoh’s oral health. These included chewing sugar cane (“It’s natural, so it’s healthy,” imagined Vincent) and pureeing mango into a drink that Alhadnoh would slowly consume through a sippy cup.“

But much better than having a sweet fruit puree in his mouth all day long, coating his teeth, would be to cut the mango into pieces to be chewed and swallowed,” says Diana. Their education regarding the danger of sweets has stuck. And now, when Alhadnoh plays with his cousins and friends, he shares the knowledge. “Don’t eat that!” he’ll say upon spying a candy bar. “It’s going to destroy your teeth!”

Eight months after that long, terrifying night, Alhadnoh flashes a bright, beautiful smile. He applies an oral medication before brushing his teeth at night. And his parents are vigilant to help maintain his oral health.“

The doctors and staff here are committed to their work, and very serious about what they do,” Vincent says, his eyes beaming with gratitude. “Alhadnoh always asks, ‘When am I going back to see the dentist?’ The truth is, I wish they treated adults too! I love this place.”

 

 

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