It isn't every day that a Dalmatian and a snake-charmer examine teeth and give patients rides in dental chairs, but the circus - also known as the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Children's Dental Health Fair - came to town Tuesday to take the terror out of a dentist trip.
This year's circus-themed fair provided a mix of education and entertainment to busloads of Headstart toddlers.
After a skit with Dudley the dinosaur, a fortune teller asked a puppet about his dental care. After the puppet admitted to eating sugary foods and forgetting to brush, the fortune teller pulled out a set of grisly teeth named Mr. Gross Teeth, hinting at the puppet's cavity-ridden future. Children in the audience gasped.
They moved on to squirt guns at balls that were marked with a black marker to represent sugar bugs. Children who succeeded in squirting the bugs earned a healthy snack and goodie bag.
The clowning around helps educate and deliver an important message, Headstart Health and Nutrition coordinator Melissa Morgan said.
"I'm responsible for the health and services of 262 children around Southeast Alaska. We serve 10 different communities, six in Juneau and nine rural communities," Morgan said.
Morgan, who wore a clown hat for the event, said she appreciates SEARHC's support in this effort.
"It's a huge responsibility, and the more support and collaboration we get from agencies that also serve these communities, the better off we are in making a real difference in children's lives." Morgan specifically appreciates SEARHC's dental hygienist, Lexi Olson.
"Lexi comes into our classrooms and really promotes dental hygiene; we have the kids brush twice a day and it's a great collaboration between SEARHC and Headstart."
Olson also is in charge of facilitating the annual fair. This year's circus theme was inspired by a typical day at their office.
"We have to juggle patients and everyone is busy running between the 12 dental chairs, so it reminds me of a circus," Olsen said.
Dr. Kim Hort, a pediatric dentist who works in their busy office, said the fair is useful.
"We want kids to experience the clinic in a very friendly and non-threatening way. Some of these kids have never been to the dentist before and they've heard stories from siblings or friends that have kind of made them anxious about coming, and we want them to see that the dental clinic can be a very fun place to visit."
Valerie Gamble-Houston, vice president of Headstart policy, understands the anxiety.
"It's important because little people who have to come have work done on their teeth, no matter how happy the rooms are and how kid-friendly the staff is, it's still uncomfortable to be in the chair with their mouth open - all the sounds and teeth poking," she said. "This dental fair gives them a chance to see all the equipment being used, outside their mouth, so they get to see where all the noises are coming from."
Della Lewis, 3, shook her goodie bag when asked what her favorite part of the visit was. Children were treated to healthy snacks and a box full of dinosaur toothbrushes, covers, floss, toothpaste and a timer to make sure they brush their teeth long enough. And maybe, next time Lewis thinks about skipping a brushing, she'll remember Mr. Gross Teeth.