20th annual Give Kids a Smile provides care to 64 children

Child smiles while receiving dental care

The School of Dentistry held its 20th annual Give Kids a Smile event on Saturday, February 3.

Child smiles while receiving dental care

Established by the American Dental Association in 2003 and first joined by the School of Dentistry in 2004, Give Kids a Smile is a national event that provides children with free oral health care.

The School of Dentistry’s event is run by a team of students, led by co-chairs and third-year DDS students Miranda Thacker, Alex Oberg and Emily Padilla.

Dental students hold "goodie bags" given to each patient

Thacker, who has always known she’d like to work with children, first saw the importance of early oral health care working in a pediatric dental office as an assistant. “I saw firsthand how pediatric dentistry makes an impact upstream, in addition to the more obvious immediate effects,” she said. “As children begin to transition to permanent dentition, education is of the utmost importance. Any knowledge we impart upon them can impact their oral health for the rest of their lives.”

Goldy gives a child a high five

That understanding inspired Thacker to take a leading role in Give Kids a Smile. “I am proud to be part of an organization that believes in equal access to care while simultaneously understanding the value of empowering patients through education.”

This year’s event was a large undertaking; the school saw 64 children aged 15 and younger, providing examinations, x-rays, cleanings and fluoride varnishes, as well as additional care as needed that extends beyond the day of the event.

Child receives dental care

“GKAS provides physical care through dental services on the day of the event and after,” she said. “We also provide each child with oral hygiene products to take home, and the care does not end with the conclusion of the event. Follow-up appointments to complete treatment plans are covered by the organization until funds are exhausted.”

A child  smiles at a provider next to the dental chair

The planning process was complex, and at times challenging, but Thacker was confident in her team, her school and their ability to achieve a successful event. “I am grateful for the entire team of committee members, staff and faculty who have worked so hard to bring the pieces together,” she reflected. “It has been rewarding to see our appointment slots fill up.”

In addition to serving children, Thacker appreciates the interprofessional nature of the event. “We coordinated with dental hygiene students, dental therapy students, medical students and social work students to provide comprehensive care for the children who attend, as well as materials on speech screenings” she explained. “I believe these interprofessional collaborations are important to emphasize the connection of oral health to systemic health.”

Dental hygiene students sit at a table with teeth cleaning information

For the first time, this year’s event also featured a MNsure navigator on site, who could help determine if families qualify for coverage in a health plan and work with them to enroll.

Most importantly, Thacker and her committee members are grateful for the opportunity to invite children to the school and create a lasting relationship in a new dental home.

“Any child we see the day of the event is encouraged to return to the School of Dentistry for their routine care, as having a dental home is essential to adequate, comprehensive care,” she said. “We aim to eliminate as many barriers as we can to make our space a welcoming and inclusive place for all children.” 

Click on the image below to see a gallery of images from the event.

Give Kids a Smile committee poses with Goldy