MADISON, NJ – For Dr. Sam Romano, Give Kids a Smile Day was more than a national initiative to provide free dental care to children who need it – it was a chance to give back to the town he loves.

Romano, a lifelong resident of Madison who has been practicing dentistry at 120 Park Avenue for 26 years, is one of thousands of dentists around the country who took part in Give Kids a Smile Day on Friday. The program provides under-served children with free dental care, including examinations, fluoride treatments, sealants, x-rays and oral surgery.

Romano’s office saw 35 kids, some from Madison and some from as far away as Hopatcong and Dover. As they waited their turn, the patients were entertained by Simon Mandal, a magician from Chatham.

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But probably no one got more out of the day than Romano.

“You don’t have to get on a plane and fly 10 hours to find a place where you can make a difference,” he said. “You can make a difference right here at home.”

Romano, a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University and UMDMJ, said people always used to tell him how lucky he is to be from Madison, and what a great town it is. His response was always “It’s OK.” A mission trip to Guatemala a couple of years ago changed his whole perspective.

“Kids there spend the whole day going through garbage looking for bottles to cash in,” Romano said. “And I came back home and said, ‘Madison is pretty great.’ In fact, that’s the only bad part about Madison – too many of us don’t realize how good we have it until we go someplace else.”

In Romano’s office, Give Kids a Smile Day isn’t just about providing free dental care, in many cases it’s about teaching kids not to be afraid of the dentist – something Romano said he often sees in adults as well – and getting them on the right track to a lifetime of oral health.

“To get started off right is a game-changer,” said Romano, who will sedate nervous patients. “I’ve seen a lot of adults who were traumatized by a dentist when they were kids, so they don’t go. Then the plaque builds up and they have more problems that take more work to fix when they do finally go.”

Some of the kids who came to Romano’s office needed fillings or more extensive work, so he scheduled them to come back when he had more time to spend with them – still free of charge.

“To take a day and do this, to help kids get on the right road, makes me happy,” he said. “We’re building a lifetime of good dental health, we’re helping kids not be afraid of the dentist. That’s what it’s about for me. The beautiful teeth and smiles are just a nice side benefit.”