I have a very real and completely irrational anxiety about visiting the dentist.



While I have healthy teeth, and generally expect good results at my cleanings, the very thought of the appointment gives me heart palpations and sends me into a cold sweat. I try to put on a brave face so my kids don’t develop the same phobia and dutifully pack us off to the dentist twice a year.



For many families in Okaloosa and Walton County, regular dental appointments aren’t a chore or an anxiety-inducing errand — instead they are a luxury they can’t afford.



Sixty percent of children in Walton County do not have health insurance. This makes routine dental care, like yearly teeth cleaning, out of reach for many family budgets.



Without regular oral care, small, isolated pockets of tooth decay can spread, not only causing pain and an increased risk of infection, but also contributing to speech problems and adversely affecting nutrition and overall growth and development.



In 2005, The Children’s Volunteer Health network was launched, providing preventative dental, medical, vision, and mental health care to the un- and underinsured children in Okaloosa and Walton counties. Since then, more than 2,500 children have been treated, thanks to the network of doctors and dentists who volunteer their time and expertise to meet immediate medical needs. Last year, through the CVHN mobile dental clinic, 576 Walton County elementary school children were treated.



Their treatment program includes a cleaning, fluoride treatment, X rays, and sealants when appropriate.



Last weekend, The CVHN’s Cottages For Kids “Fun Raiser” kicked off during the Flutterby Festival in Rosemary Beach. Some of the Emerald Coast’s best and most sought after builders, architects and designers donate their time, their talents, and their expertise to create and build whimsical and charming playhouses.



During the event, kids of all ages can explore and play in these magnificent cottages. Alex and Harper ran wild for hours last weekend, checking out every nook and cranny, sliding down every slide, scaling rope ladders and swinging high into the air.
While all of the cottages were amazing, both Alex and Harper went bananas over the “Torre de Juego.” This “Tower of Play, built and donated by Heritage Builders is three tiers of fun, compete with a lookout post and telescope, a fire pole, a rope ladder and a zip line.



Another cottage channeled “Harry Potter.” One resembled a very fancy lifeguard stand, and another was modeled after a one-room schoolhouse. Cottages For Kids will be open for play and exploration every weekend through Nov. 24. These cottages are up for auction, which you can do in person or online at BiddingForGood.com.



Think you may have found the perfect holiday gift? Many of the playhouses have a “buy now” feature, so you can purchase it outright, rather than waiting for the auction to close. If these playhouses are out of your holiday giving budget, you can also purchase raffle tickets and try your luck in winning them.



While I was watching the children run, play, and laugh, I couldn’t help but feel that these great smiles will help other kids find their own smile. This time of year we give thanks for our own blessings, including the healthy kids in our hearts and in our homes.



Thanks to the Children’s Volunteer Health Network and their dedicated staff and volunteers, underprivileged local children will be a little healthier and their smile a little brighter this year.



Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoastfl.com/blog.