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Utah Jazz team up with nonprofit to provide dental care to underprivileged kids

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz teamed up with nonprofit TeamSmile to provide complimentary dental care to underprivileged children at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Monday.

About 100 youths, from West High School as well as those in homeless shelters, attended the event.

"We do the full body of dental work," said John McCarthy, executive director of TeamSmile. "From screenings and cleanings and X-rays, and then (we) diagnose what needs to happen from there. And then when they go to a dentist, they'll do everything a full dentist will do. They'll do extractions, they'll fill cavities, they'll do root canals."

"It's a wonderful service for the children who can't afford it," said McCarthy, who noted the services typically rendered by TeamSmile are valued somewhere between $500 to $1,500 per individual.

About a dozen dentists and 26 student dentists, as well as dental hygienists, manned equipment in a corner lobby of the arena. McCarthy said it typically takes 125 volunteers to pull these events off. They were prepared to treat more than 200 kids on Monday.

TeamSmile, based in Kansas City, Missouri, partners with major sports teams to put on its complimentary dental care events.

McCarthy said the point of holding the event in a sports arena is to "create an experience" for the kids who "normally can't afford to be here." Besides enjoying a DJ playing music, the children had access to the basketball court to shoot hoops, accompanied by the Jazz cheerleaders and the Jazz Bear.

Every child also went home with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

"Sometimes we hear stories where kids say, 'This is great. I've never … even had a toothbrush,' and we have other kids that are so thrilled, because they share their toothbrush with their brothers and sisters because they only have one," said McCarthy.

Ashley Jimenez, a student at West High School, said her cleaning service was "very good."

"They knew what they were doing," said Jimenez. "My teeth feel better now."

McCarthy said TeamSmile coordinates with local community leaders to look for boys and girls clubs, homeless shelters and schools that have a high population of free or reduced-price lunches to find children who need their services.

"It's expensive," said McCarthy. "We travel around with about a half-million dollars of dental equipment and supplies."

Patti Balli, who works in the community relations department for the Utah Jazz, said the team's partnership with TeamSmile is three years running.

"They called us, and they just had a great program," said Balli. "We have so many kids here in Utah that need help, so we said, 'Come on out.'"

"All of these people — the dentists, the hygienists — everybody comes in and volunteers their time. … The Crown Council support this. They make it possible funding-wise. So, it's just a big community group effort — everybody comes together to help our kids here in Utah," Balli said.

Dentist Tucker VanYperen said the organization was founded by his business partner, Dr. Bill Bush, and since then it has spread across the nation.

"It started just word of mouth in Kansas City," VanYperen said about how TeamSmile finds volunteer dentists to do this complimentary dental work.