Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dentists Open Wide for Kids; Local Volunteers, Tours Help Children

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dentists Open Wide for Kids; Local Volunteers, Tours Help Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Teneshia L. Wright, Times-Union sports writer

The Players Championship tees off tomorrow, but "kids and teeth" has been the buzz at The First Tee of Jacksonville at Brentwood's course since Monday.

Texas dentist Richard Garza rounded up 18 First Coast dentists and their dental assistants to provide free dental care Monday through today for 120 underprivileged children, mostly from within The Bridge and First Tee programs. Kids received whatever they needed, from fillings to root canals.

"It's incredibly rewarding because we know that so many kids are not getting this help otherwise," said Garza, who has been licensed for 24 years. "We see teenagers that have never been to the dentist. It's very important and impacts their general health. A child living with a toothache does not do as well in school and as well socially. If you're in pain, you tend to be a little grumpy and not so sociable."

Garza, a 55-year-old husband with four adult children, developed the non-profit program, Christina's Smile, in 1989 as an extension of his practice, which serviced some needy kids, in Austin, Texas. Christina's Smile provides dental clinics for disadvantaged children in cities hosting PGA and Senior Tour events.

Christina was one of Garza's twins who died at birth of multiple defects. Christina's twin brother, Mark, is now 25.

"It's not to memorialize her, but in her name, it drove an awful lot of the passion to get the program off the ground because so many people didn't believe it would work," Garza said. "I never believed it wouldn't, and part of it may have been her spirit driving the program to succeed."

According to Garza, Christina's Smile has provided more than $9 million worth of dental care to needy children since its inception. About $45,000-55,000 worth of work is performed during each Tour stop. The program is funded through donations from Roadway Express and the PGA and Champions Tours.

Garza's assistant, Diane Stigler, lines up volunteer dentists and identifies needy children through local organizations. …

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