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Celebrating a decade of smiles

GKAS observes 10th anniversary nationwide

February 20, 2012

By Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff

New York City—Ten years and millions of children.

“I marvel about what Give Kids A Smile has become,” said ADA President William Calnon Feb. 3 at the Nasdaq opening as he marked the national GKAS celebration. “It’s grown up. It’s survived infancy and all the bumps and bruises along the way, and it has matured into one of the ADA’s true flagship ventures.”

Manhattan: ADA President William R. Calnon appears on a Times Square jumbo screen Feb. 3 heralding Give Kids A Smile as part of the Nasdaq opening bell ceremony. Photo by Henry Schein

“Ten years goes by like that,” said Stanley M. Bergman, chairman and chief executive officer of Henry Schein Inc., as he looked back fondly on Give Kids A Smile events while watching a video montage Feb. 3. This year is the 10th anniversary of GKAS, which is the American Dental Association’s signature oral health access program, designed to encourage parents, health professionals and policymakers to address the year-round need for oral health care for underserved children.

Dr. Calnon joined Mr. Bergman and other representatives from the three corporate sponsors of GKAS—Henry Schein Dental, Colgate-Palmolive and DEXIS—at the Nasdaq Feb. 3. The group rang the opening bell of the Nasdaq market, telling the world about Give Kids A Smile. Their faces and the GKAS logo were shown on a jumbo TV screen in Times Square.

“It’s really amazing how deep this has gone into dentistry and how wide it is,” said Mr. Bergman, whose company has donated more than $11 million in products and services to support GKAS. “We have made a difference in this country for hundreds of thousands of children.”

This year, more than 40,000 volunteer dentists and their team members were expected to treat children for GKAS at nearly 1,600 sites. About 450,000 annually are seen through the program.

Smiley wave: A Newark, N.J.-area child waves at the camera while she waits to be seen by the volunteers at UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School for Give Kids A Smile Feb. 3. Photo courtesy of UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School
About 80 percent of tooth decay in the United States is suffered by 25 percent of the children, according to the National Institutes of Health. For every child younger than 18 years old without medical insurance, there are at least two children without dental insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Medicaid budgets allocate 2 percent or less for dental services, according to the ADA.

It’s been a banner year for GKAS, especially after NASCAR driver Greg Biffle’s 3M car and uniform sported the GKAS, 3M and Henry Schein Cares logo. At the GKAS ceremony in New York, 3M presented Dr. Calnon with the hood of Mr. Biffle’s car, which was autographed by the NASCAR driver.

After being spotlighted in Times Square, much of the group then loaded a GKAS-themed bus and toured GKAS events at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School in Newark and Bergen Community College’s Dental Hygiene Program in Paramus. New Jersey was selected to host the national flagship GKAS event this year.

The scene at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School was less like a traditional visit to the dentist and more of a carnival environment. As hundreds of school age children waited to be seen by dentists and supervised dental students, they were treated to balloon animals, a magician and colorful posters educating them about good oral health care.

“We wanted to infuse in the kids’ minds the concept of oral health care in a carnival environment. So you take the fear out of it,” said Dr. Arnold Rosenheck, assistant dean at UMDNJ.

Students holding consent forms waited to be called into sectioned-off yellow cubes, where their dental experience began. They were given oral hygiene instruction, inspected for any serious problems, given a fluoride treatment and, if necessary, given emergency care or reappointed for care at a future date, Dr. Rosenheck said.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) attended the event to discuss his legislation to promote pro bono dental care in underserved communities. The Pro Bono Medically Recommended Dental Care Act would establish a competitive grant program for nonprofit organizations to coordinate pro bono dental care for low income and disabled people on Medicare, Medicaid or who are eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

National interest: U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) visits the UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School on Feb. 3 for GKAS to discuss his legislation to promote pro bono dental care in underserved communities. Photo courtesy of Sen. Menendez's office

“Every year, countless kids don’t get a chance to have a healthy smile or even a chance at minimal dental care because of lack of coverage,” Sen. Menendez said. “In underserved communities, children go without any dental care, risking not only their smile, but their physical health as well. That is simply unacceptable.”

At Bergen Community College, dental hygiene students entertained waiting children with puppets and coloring books. The students, supervised by dentists, examined the children and provided cleanings.

There was a dentist on-site to do restorative work, if needed, and children were also given referrals if they needed more extensive care. Bergen Community College is one of five dental hygiene programs in New Jersey.

The children were mostly identified by school nurses in public elementary and charter schools and Head Start programs. More than 1,200 volunteer dental professionals at nearly 100 dental locations in New Jersey are expected to treat uninsured children under 12 from low-income families at no charge.

Dentists statewide who were interested in helping were each asked to donate $50 to a fund managed by the New Jersey Dental Association that paid for buses to transport children to GKAS events.

For more information about Give Kids A Smile, visit the program website at GKAS and, for the latest news, visit the GKAS Facebook page at