Annual Give Kids a Smile event brings 96 children to campus

Child smiles in dental chair

After an in-person hiatus last year, Give Kids a Smile returned to its day-long event format at the School of Dentistry this year. 

Patient learns how to brush her teeth from dental provider

On Saturday, February 26, 96 children came to the School of Dentistry to receive free dental care from DDS, dental hygiene and dental therapy students and their faculty. Services included comprehensive examinations, cleanings, sealants and fillings. The event is part of the American Dental Association’s national Give Kids a Smile program aimed at providing oral health services to children who might not otherwise be able to receive them. Give Kids a Smile was established as a national program in 2003, and nearly 1,500 partners host events each February in honor of Children’s Dental Health Month. 

At the School of Dentistry, Give Kids a Smile has two main aims: to bring in patients who require and aren’t receiving care, and to establish a dental home where children can continue to receive needed care. The event is organized, chaired and staffed by volunteers, with a team of three DDS students per class. 

Give Kids a Smile committee
Give Kids a Smile 2022 committee

Alissa Bares, DDS ’23, took a non-traditional path to dental school, so she was not as familiar with the concept as some of her classmates the first time Give Kids a Smile came up. But “it sounded like an interesting opportunity to get an exposure to working with pediatric patients,” so she decided to give it a shot. This year, she’s serving as committee chair for the event 

For Bares, the event is about more than simply doing something good for someone else. It’s about righting an injustice and doing what she can to set every child up for success. A mother herself, Bares sees access to proper oral health care as an issue that affects every part of a child’s life, and as a shared responsibility. “I struggled with the fact that we expect kids to show up and sit through class in pain,” she reflected. “We can’t compare where those kids who don’t have access to care are to where my kids are at educationally. So any effort we can make as a school to make oral health care more accessible to those populations is beneficial. That’s how we can contribute to things beyond health care, like the achievement gap.” 

Two students pose with toothbrushes and supplies at Give Kids a Smile day
Proctor & Gamble supplied electric toothbrushes and other oral hygiene supplies for each student.

Bares is excited to use this day as an opportunity to create lasting relationships with new patients. “We’re trying to shift the model of Give Kids a Smile from being a day of care to a lifelong concept,” she said. “We don’t want to just be on the defense, treating problems, but instead create a pattern of long term oral health for patients.” 

The school is working to create those patterns by establishing an appointment model rather than walk-ins, partnering with Portico HealthNet and Ready Set Smile to identify families in need of care. Children who received treatment during the event went home with a scholarship to continue their dental care at the School of Dentistry, in an effort to establish dental homes and encourage regular preventative care. These scholarships are thanks in part to a generous donation from Proctor & Gamble, who also provided toothbrushes and other hygiene supplies for each child to take home.

Though the event itself is one day, Give Kids a Smile’s impact is far-reaching and helps identify and combat disparities in the Twin Cities–an integral part of dental education. 

“We would be wrong to not acknowledge where the community’s needs are when we walk out into the world after school,” Bares reflected. “You can learn things in textbooks, but this helps build a perspective of what is applicable, what is most needed and where that need exists over the course of a patient’s lifetime. Often we’ll see someone later in life come in to our chairs and wonder if we could have changed their outcomes earlier. Programs like this help us understand what is needed, and how we can help.” 

Click on this image to see a full album of photos from Give Kids a Smile.