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Serving Up Smiles: Free dental clinic for homeless, low-income Nevadans

LAS VEGAS - More than 100 homeless and low-income Nevadans got free dental check-ups Sunday.

A free dental clinic was set up thanks to a partnership between The Salvation Army Southern Nevada and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, a volunteer organization dedicated to medicine and education.

Darrin Jenkins has not gotten his teeth checked in a while.

"I came to get my teeth done and X-rays to see what's wrong with my teeth," Jenkins said.

Jenkins is homeless. He says he simply does not have the money to go to the dentist.

"I don't have dental insurance, most people don't, so it's good to come here to get your teeth worked on if you need it," Jenkins said.

Jenkins and at least 130 other homeless and low-income Nevadans came to The Salvation Army Southern Nevada on Sunday. For the third year, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation set up a free dental clinic there to help those in need.

"To serve the homeless people that either need dental cleanings, fixings or extractions, something that we take for granted, but for somebody who can't afford it, it's a big thing for them," said Juan Salinas, Director of Social Services for The Salvation Army Southern Nevada.

"We are very happy to serve the under-served people in our community," said Tsuilin Valenzuela with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. "That's why we are here, to try to serve and give back to our community."

Medical professionals say events like the free dental clinic on Sunday are crucial to help Nevada's most vulnerable get the care they desperately need.

"When people lose their jobs or become homeless, the oral health really gets neglected," said oral surgeon Dr. Jesse Falk. "Good quality dental care with good, trained clinicians really helps not only boost people's self-esteem, but also helps them long-term with their general health."

Those are two of the reasons Jenkins is now all-smiles -- and that is the whole point.

"Putting that smile on their face goes a long way," Salinas said.

"It makes you feel good," Jenkins said. "It means there are people that do care about you."

The Salvation Army Southern Nevada says they put on other events throughout the year to help homeless and low-income Nevadans stay healthy. Those include a medical clinic on their campus and an HIV mobile unit that comes once a month.


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