Sunset Hills Dentist 'Gives Kids a Smile'
Dr. Craig Hollander aims to teach that cavity prevention is key in children.
There is indeed a tooth fairy. But, he doesn’t put money under little ones’ pillows when they lose a tooth—he’s in the business of keeping teeth healthy. Dr. Craig Hollander of Pediatric Dentistry in Sunset Hills has volunteered with “Give Kids a Smile” (GKAS) since the inaugural program in 2002. For the first eight years he performed restorative dentistry on children visiting the clinic. He now screens children age 4 or under for dental disease and educates their parents on cavity prevention while overseeing the Tiny Smiles area of the clinic.
GKAS hosts free comprehensive dental clinics for underserved children every February and October. Over the past decade, GKAS has provided 10,000 local children with $4.2 million in services with the help of more than 8,400 volunteers.
During GKAS, volunteer dental professionals such as Hollander lend their time and talents to provide comprehensive dental care services at no charge to needy children. Hollander works in the Tiny Smiles area, which treats children under 4 years of age.
GKAS was developed by five St. Louis dental professionals—Jeffrey Dalin, DDS; B. Ray Storm, DDS; Tom Flavin, DDS; Mark Ortinau, DDS and Jan Storm, RDHB. Dalin happens to be Hollander’s person dentist.
“I would say humbly that I am the go-to person when it comes to dental health in children and talking about cavities (in the area),” Hollander said. “I started as a volunteer pediatric dentist—they needed someone who doesn’t get unraveled when they see someone with cavities.”
Since Hollander’s passion has always been working with 1 ½-2 year olds, when the opportunity arose to create the clinic, Dalin asked if Hollander would come on board.
Now impact of this program is so profound that the American Dental Association (ADA) adopted the program in an effort to help communities nationwide emulate this care in their local areas. The ADA helps to establish approximately 1,800 events of varying sizes nationwide, reaching nearly 450,000 children each year. The St. Louis clinic continues to serve as the nation’s largest clinic.
In addition to working with GKAS, Hollander also has been a member of his Sunset Hills practice since 1991. Growing up in West County, he actually got lost the first time he went to office.
“My family literally never went south of Manchester and 270,” he said. “I started off with an older partner who had started the practice in 1971. He retired three years ago and there is a lot more business that you have to deal with. It’s been fun; it’s been a great career.”
Hollander knew as early as middle school that he wanted to be a dentist. He wanted to help people, but at the same time not work overnights in a hospital.
“As I went through braces I thought orthodontics would be good, but then you only get to see your patients for two years and then they are out of braces,” he said. “I always liked kids and I realized I could start off with them very young and watch them grow into their teen years.”
Hollander also recruits dental students from SIU Alton Dental School to volunteer at the GKAS clinics so they will feel comfortable in their private practices once they graduate. He personally works on his own children, Jeni, who is a junior at Parkway North, and Ian, who is a freshman.
“Fortunatey Jeni hasn’t had a cavity in her life. My son has been trauma prone, so I had to do a baby root canal on him when he was 3—but better me than someone else,” Hollander said.
In being a dentist, Hollander knows that there are a lot of kids who have trouble with baby teeth and that things can go bad early on. He said that he has created a sort of “mission” in educating general dentists and parents that cavities for the most part are preventable by taking very easy steps.
“Don’t let babies go to bed with milk or juice (on their teeth) all night long,” he said. “There are simple things, but it’s a matter of getting it out there—there is a cause and effect relationship with how kids are taking care of their teeth.”
And for those kids who are afraid of the dentist? Hollander hopes that it is a fear of the unknown and not a fear because they’ve already been hurt by someone. He works with a “tell, show and do” method.
“We start off by telling the child what we are going to be doing—maybe hand them the dental mirror and count their teeth,” he said. “A lot of times it’s a matter of having patience and talking to the kids. We just ask them ‘Why are you afraid?’ in their tears sometimes they’ll say ‘I don’t know why’ and we can calm them down and explain what we are doing.”
In the last 30-40 years, Hollander said that dentists have realized that baby teeth have nerves. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a child be seen at a year of age or 6 months after the first tooth has erupted.
“I think 40 yrs ago dentists were afraid to give shots and the teeth would hurt when they are getting worked on,” he said. “Some of the technology we use now are thinner, shorter needles—the drills are faster certainly and within the last 15 years we have fillings that actually release fluoride, which strengthens teeth.”
Hollander said that he feels extremely blessed and fortunate that he has found a career that he can make a difference in.
“There’s so many people out there that aren’t fortunate enough to make it to my practice and it’s a way that I can give back to the community so that the kids can grow up cavity free,” he said. “That’s really my outlook on this whole clinic. When I was just a dentist filling cavities—there’s no guarantee that the child would be back 6 months with more cavities because I wasn’t talking to the parents. Now that I’m seeing the parents my goal is that 5 years from now it’s going to be more difficult to find cavities to fill. I’m literally trying to put ourselves out of business, but there’s nothing wrong with prevention.”