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Puerto Rico GKAS serves kids with special needs

Art show, interactive learning and focus on kids with special needs make Puerto Rico GKAS unique

October 06, 2014

By Stacie Crozier

image of GKAS Puerto Rico supporters
GKAS Puerto Rico supporters: From left, Dr. Edgar Colón, past acting chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus; Dr. Ana N. López, GKAS coordinator and director of community dentistry for the university's School of Dental Medicine; Carmen Acosta, Colgate-Palmolive; Dr. Noel Aymat, past acting dean of the dental school and current chancellor of the Medical Sciences Campus, and Gilmartin Pares, Henry Schein gather during the GKAS program in February.
San Juan, Puerto Rico —
This February, about 1,000 kids with special needs and their families from across Puerto Rico had lots of reasons to smile thanks to a growing Give Kids A Smile program that includes interactive oral health education, an art competition and exhibition, exams and follow-up care.

In 2014, more than 220 volunteers provided exams and education simultaneously at 11 sites organized through the University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine. General dentists, specialists, third- and fourth-year dental students, residents, faculty, predental students, nutrition students, dental assisting students and staff volunteered in interprofessional teams at the dental school, community health centers and schools around the island.

Now in its ninth year, the Puerto Rico GKAS program this year focused on serving special needs children. Children from a variety of organizations participated, including the San Gabriel School for the Deaf, Instituto Loaiza Cordero Para Niños Ciegos, Down Syndrome Foundation, SER de Puerto Rico, Pediatric Hospital of Puerto Rico, Instituto Psicopedagógico de Puerto Rico and other schools. Parents also received education on the benefits of good oral health and how to help and supervise the oral health care of their children.

Continuing a tradition in Puerto Rico, the 2014 GKAS included an art contest and exposition for children, from preschool to sixth grade, who created drawings showcasing the importance of good oral health. A group of artists from the local Down syndrome foundation also displayed and sold their artistic creations.

image of children with visual impairments learning how dental plaque feels
Hands-on education: Children with visual impairments learn how dental plaque feels in February at the GKAS program in Puerto Rico.
"Organizing hands-on activities that educate children and their caregivers on how to maintain good oral health and its benefits are key for the reduction of dental caries," said Dr. Ana N. López, director of community dentistry at the dental school. "This activity is also an excellent way to compliment the education of the future health professionals, by giving them the opportunity to engage in community service learning through interprofessional collaborations. This is one of the many activities the dental school gets involved in as part of its mission and strategic plan."

Volunteers provided exams, fluoride varnish applications and education. Children with urgent needs were referred to the dental school clinic or a local dentist for dental care. Kids also enjoyed puppet shows; hands-on preventive care activities like brushing and flossing targeted to the special needs of participating children; lessons on the importance of exercise, balanced nutrition, choosing healthy beverages and regular dental care to prevent caries; and a nutritious, oral-health friendly meal.

image of a student from the University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine helping a child with visual impairment learn to floss
Flossing lesson: A student from the University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine helps a child with visual impairment learn to floss during the 2014 GKAS Puerto Rico program.
"It is important to include special needs patients and to acknowledge their particular needs, to send the message that as a profession we educate our students to work with all patients regardless of their needs," Dr. López said. "By working with these children and educating their caregivers, our students are also exposed to the needs of a variety of patients. As an academic institution we encourage voluntary and community work for all areas of the community, especially those more vulnerable and with less access to care. We also encourage the treatment of a diverse population."

The University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine organizes the annual program with support from the ADA Give Kids A Smile program sponsors, Colgate and Henry Schein.

For more information about the ADA's Give Kids A Smile program or to start your own program, please visit the GKAS Web page.