MINNEAPOLIS — Ordinary trips to the dentist don't include football fields as backdrops and NFL players sitting alongside hygienists.
But such was the scene last Tuesday when 160 youth received a unique opportunity to go through a pop-up shop created by TeamSmile that was hosted at U.S. Bank Stadium in the Delta Sky 360° Club.
TeamSmile partnered with Park Dental and the Vikings for the all-day dental clinic, providing free care to the youth. TeamSmile unites with various professional sports organizations across the country every year.
"I just really want to thank the Vikings because this partnership, it's really important for us," Executive Director of TeamSmile John McCarthy said. "When you look around and see the smiles on these kids' faces, a great part of that is attributed to what the Vikings are doing by allowing us to use this space, this stadium and bringing out the mascot and players. Kudos to the Vikings for doing so much for this community."
Park Dental President Chris Steele added they always look forward to this event.
"There's a lot of events that Park Dental gets involved in through the state dental associations; this is really a highlighted event just because how well this is done," Steele said. "A lot of it is with the backing of the Vikings."
McCarthy said TeamSmile can perform a full array of dental services for up to 300 youth ages 5-18 a day.
"A lot of people talk about, 'Oh, TeamSmile, they come in to do a cleaning or a screening.' Well, we do the full body of dental work right here on site," McCarthy said. "[Patients] get the screening and X-ray at the beginning, but depending on what's needed after they diagnose, they may just need a cleaning and we'll take care of that in hygiene. But if they need to have their tooth extracted; they need a root canal; they need a crown; if they need cavities filled, we do that right here on site."
Steele added the main goal is to help educate the kids on taking care of their teeth at an early age.
"Preventative dentistry is a big thing," Steele said. "Cleaning their teeth, talking about home care, getting better with what they do with brushing, flossing, etc. [as well as] putting sealants on teeth, which is a way to prevent permanent teeth from getting cavities as they get older."
In addition to the care they received, the youth were able to participate in arts and crafts, games and enjoy opportunities to play catch and run around on the field.
"We want to make dentistry cool and fun — take the fear out of it. And by using the power of sports, in this case the Vikings and this beautiful stadium, we're able to accomplish that," McCarthy said. "We've got a DJ going; we've got face painters in here; we've got coloring in here; we've got players and cheerleaders. So collectively, we're able to create this great experience for these children and take the fear out of dentistry. That's the idea; give them something special."
Kicker Greg Joseph, right guard Ed Ingram and center Josh Sokol were on hand to interact with the children and offer support.
"It's very cool to be out here," Joseph said. "We're just here trying to lift spirits because we all know the stigma of going to the dentist, so anything I can do to help it go a bit smoother for these kids, I'm all for it."
Joseph added he's had a back-and-forth relationship with going to the dentist, but said he hopes the environment of U.S. Bank Stadium helps ease the process for the kids.
"I had similar experiences with some kids," Joseph said. "Hopefully [the environment] helps each procedure go by a little bit faster and a little bit easier and kids will remember it as a fun, positive experience and want to go back and obviously take care of their dental health."
Sokol agreed with his teammate.
"If I was a kid, this would be the coolest dentist appointment ever. I'd always want to go back," Sokol said.