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Mobile dental unit to aid areas near Nats Park

New facility on wheels part of MLB's All-Star Legacy project series
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- In the three Washington, D.C., wards that envelop Nationals Park, there is only one dentist for every 4,000 residents -- less than half the national average.

That harrowing fact is why the group of community leaders assembled at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School on Friday morning couldn't sit back idly. They were there to unveil a new mobile dental unit to replace an older one "held together by tape, bubble gum and a little bit of prayer," said Dr. Erik Scheifele, division chief of oral health at Children's National, which launched the original unit in 2001.

WASHINGTON -- In the three Washington, D.C., wards that envelop Nationals Park, there is only one dentist for every 4,000 residents -- less than half the national average.

That harrowing fact is why the group of community leaders assembled at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School on Friday morning couldn't sit back idly. They were there to unveil a new mobile dental unit to replace an older one "held together by tape, bubble gum and a little bit of prayer," said Dr. Erik Scheifele, division chief of oral health at Children's National, which launched the original unit in 2001.

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The pristine new dental facility on wheels, part of MLB's All-Star Legacy project series, will serve 19 sites in Wards 7 & 8, Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Ward 6 and Prince George's County just outside D.C.

"This mobile clinic is going to be here serving communities and families well beyond [when] the All-Star Game packs up and leaves town," Ward 6 councilmember Charles Allen said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "That's the kind of investment we want to see."

Joining Allen and Scheifele at the festivities were Rick Ankiel, 11-year MLB veteran and former Nationals player; Mara Lerner Tanenbaum and Mark Lerner, former and current principal owner of the Nationals, respectively; HyeSook Chung, D.C.'s deputy mayor of health and human services; Melanie LeGrande, MLB vice president of social responsibility; and Dr. Kurt Newman, president and chief executive officer of Children's National.

Tweet from @DMHHS_DC: Thrilled to join @childrenshealth @MLB @Nationals on behalf of @MayorBowser for the ribbon cutting of the new #MLB���s All-Star Legacy Initiative - a brand new Mobile Dental Unit serving children in all 8 wards! #AllStarWeek #thrivebyfiveDC #GrowUpStronger pic.twitter.com/955kJRXEXZ

The much-needed dental unit is one of several projects being introduced by the MLB during All-Star Week that will outlive the festivities of the Midsummer Classic. All are being instilled with the hopes of leaving a positive imprint on the city for years to come.

"Not only does the city benefit from having the All-Star Game, but the community benefits from projects like this and stuff that can happen," Ankiel said. "… It's the right thing to do. Giving back certainly makes you feel good, and when you see stuff like this that can be so impactful, that means a lot."

While the new dental unit won't eradicate every single problem in D.C. when it comes to dental hygiene, Newman said it's a long-awaited first step in the right direction to try to minimize the risk to residents in the shadow of Nationals Park.

"It seems so counterintuitive that here we are in our nation's capital and there are kids that aren't getting the basic dental care for oral health," Newman said in his speech. "Over 3,000 children in the District of Columbia are going to get dental care that they never had before."

Zachary Silver is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.

Washington Nationals