Even with chocolate-flavored paste and encouragement from cousins Raven, 10, and Caitlin, 9, Nicole wasn't quite ready to sit still under a bright light and have grinding sounds in her mouth.
"This was not good," she said with a pout, which turned to a smile when an attendant handed her a balloon.
Nicole was one of more than 100 children who received free dental care Friday as part of Give a Kid a Smile Day.
Each year, Aiken-area dentists, with the help of Aiken Technical College, offer services for the day to families that aren't covered by insurance or Medicaid. Dental students from the Medical College of Georgia provide free treatment to elementary and middle school pupils in Richmond County.
"We've been doing this for about five years and it's just a good service to the community," said Dr. Bob Lofgren, of Aiken.
Organizer Angela Odom said dentists are hoping to expand services to more than just one day. The environment during Give a Kid a Smile Day gives children a safe association with the dentist.
Even though Nicole didn't make it through the entire session, she still enjoyed the face painting and balloon animals, distractions her family was thankful for.
"This is beyond awesome; it's just been such a great experience and is such a godsend for families like us that make too much to get discounted care but make too little to afford insurance," said Teresa Cooks, Nicole's aunt.
Families who might need the program are identified by school nurses. Though some children come in needing major work, many just need a good cleaning to keep them on track.
Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.