Give Kids a Smile Events Help Kids Across the Country

Richard Gawel


For the past 14 years, the ADA Foundation’s Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) has provided free oral health services to more than 5.5 million children. Working with a broad range of corporate and academic partners, the program’s mission continues as it celebrates its 15th anniversary this February, which also is National Children’s Dental Health Month.

“This is a time to celebrate all that GKAS has accomplished during the past 14 years. So many good things have occurred, but we realize there is still more to do in the years ahead,” said William R. Calnon, DDS, president of the ADA Foundation. “It is driven by people wanting to truly make a difference.”

And these volunteers have their work cut out for them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that dental caries is the most prevalent infectious disease among children in the United States, affecting more than 40% of infants and preschoolers before they reach kindergarten and about half of all children from lower-income families. 

Kicking Things Off

The festivities began as members of the ADA Foundation joined representatives of Henry Schein to open the Nasdaq Stock Market on Friday, February 3. Henry Schein has served as the official GKAS professional products sponsor since the ADA launched the program nationally in 2003 to raise awareness of the need to expand access to oral healthcare for children.

“For too long, poor oral health has been a silent epidemic affecting our nation’s children, and for 15 years, Henry Schein has supported the Give Kids a Smile program so that volunteer oral health professionals can have the products they need to treat underserved children,” said Stanley M. Bergman, Henry Schein CEO and chairman of the board.

Henry Schein has donated more than $15 million in oral care products to the program, which also has involved more than 550,000 volunteers. This year, more than 1,300 GKAS events are scheduled, where nearly 300,000 underserved children will receive free oral health screenings, education, and treatment courtesy of about 40,000 volunteers.

Events continued on February 3 with the program’s official kickoff, held at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark, NJ. More than 300 children attended the event and received pro bono dental screenings, exams, cleanings, and preventive treatments as well as an oral health goody bag and education from more than 100 Rutgers student and faculty volunteers.

“Dentists and dental students all over America have been reminded that we can make a difference in the lives of kids who aren’t fortunate to get a checkup every 6 months,” said Cecile A. Feldman, DMD, MBA, dean of the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “Because of GKAS, millions of smiles are brighter.”

A Yearlong Program

The Creighton University School of Dentistry got an early start as its students and faculty visited Nelson Mandela Elementary School in North Omaha, Neb. The school-wide assembly about the importance of brushing that they presented is just the start of a year-long relationship that will create a “dental home” for students and families at the school.

“Bringing dental health to the kids at school works,” said Stuart Tucker, a third-year dental student. “When we look at dental health, there are really 2 sides to it. There’s the biological side, which tells us that oral health is crucial to overall health, and then there’s a social element. Kids are more confident learners, more comfortable in what they pursue, when they have a bright, happy smile.”

Dental faculty and students will begin making regular visits to the school. Creighton also will help defray some of the costs of dental care with a voucher system that will allow children to receive as much dental care as can be provided in a visit to the School of Dentistry’s clinic for $10. The partnership aims to have a cavity-free school by 2023.

After the assembly, students returned to their classrooms, where Creighton faculty and students provided tutorials on proper tooth brushing. All of the students received their own toothbrushes, which will be stored on a rack in each classroom. Going forward, students will brush in class twice a day.

“Making tooth brushing a part of the school day just makes sense,” said Susan Toohey, EdD, principal of the elementary school. “When you’re 5, 6, 7 years old, there’s a ripple effect that we hope will help establish good habits for the rest of your life, and it’s also something our students can help spread at home to siblings and parents.”

Creighton faculty and students returned to Nelson Mandela to provide dental screenings, fluoride treatments, and dental education. Future visits to the elementary school will include dental sealant programs, nutrition education, and a health fair with games for the children.

Other Events

Also, students, faculty, and staff at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry provided free dental services including screenings and cleanings to about 80 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from the Freedom Prep Academy on Thursday, February 2. Fourth year dental students performed the care, under faculty supervision.

“Outreach is part of what we teach every dental student,” said Tim Hottel, DDS, dean of the College of Dentistry. “From the onset of our participation in this national initiative, our students and faculty have performed approximately 2,200 dental procedures on more than 400 children.”

About 200 dental and dental hygiene students, faculty, and staff from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry joined with community volunteers to visit 6 local elementary schools in Jefferson County, Ky, on February 3 to provide dental screenings to nearly 3,000 children. Dental hygiene students also discussed proper brushing and flossing, the importance of seeing a dentist, and healthy snacking and drinking options.

“Good dental care is vital to our students’ overall well-being and confidence, key elements in them coming to school happy, healthy, and ready to learn,” said Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens, EdD. “We’re excited to partner with the University of Louisville School of Dentistry and other community collaborators on this important health initiative. 

The oral health evaluations met the Kentucky dental screening requirements for school entry. Also, children received goody bags with toothbrushes, dental floss, and oral health educational materials. Parents and legal guardians also were encouraged to find a dental home for their children, such as the university’s pediatric dentistry division, which is accepting new patients.

And, multiple events are planned in Chicago, which has particular challenges in providing oral healthcare. According to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, city residents with high economic hardship have 40% more dental related emergency room visits than the city average. Plus, half of children under the age of 11 years have cavities, and more than 65% of third graders have cavities, with more than half going untreated.

To help, students and faculty at the school provided more than 100 children from St. Malachy School and Chicagoland Easter Seals with exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments, and oral health education on February 2. Plus, the Chicago Dental Society (CDS) offered free routine exams and other services on Saturday, February 4. More than 100 CDS member dentists will visit Chicago schools to distribute oral hygiene products and educate children throughout February as well.

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