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'Living up to its name by giving kids a smile'

October 16, 2012

By Kelly Soderlund

San Francisco—”Pretend this is toothpaste.”

It was a request that mystified a class of first-graders at E.R. Taylor Elementary School Tuesday. Especially since the “toothpaste” was a bottle of orange juice.

Presidential gift: ADA President William Calnon hands fifth-grader Paulina Esquivias a backpack filled with oral health supplies.
But in order to get their oral education message across, volunteers with the ADA’s Give Kids A Smile event needed the students to suspend belief. It took a second for the students to process the wacky request but they soon bought into it and launched into a song on how to brush your teeth.

“A dab of toothpaste on the brush. Take your time, no need to rush,” the students sang along with the volunteers, which included local dentists and members of the San Francisco Dental Society and dental hygiene students from Chabot College in Oakland, Calif.

Tuesday’s screening, where around 790 students were seen, was part of a three-day GKAS event in San Francisco preceding the ADA Annual Session. Around 150 dentists, hygienists, dental students, dental staffs and other volunteers were expected to participate to provide 2,000 San Francisco children with oral health screenings, education and treatment.

Singing about brushing: Dental hygiene students from Chabot College in Oakland, Calif., provide oral health education to first-graders at E.R. Taylor Elementary School.
“When you think about the name of the program itself, it’s living up to its name by giving kids a smile,” said ADA President William Calnon, who attended Tuesday’s event with President-elect Robert Faiella and ADA Executive Director Kathleen O’Loughlin. “I was impressed with the way all of the various sponsors and volunteers have worked so well together to pull this off.”

The screenings are a collaboration between the ADA; Colgate’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures; the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation; Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit company behind Sesame Street; the San Francisco Department of Public Health; and the San Francisco Dental Society. The SFDS already has an extensive program in place, where every kindergartener in the San Francisco Public Schools is screened.

On Monday, volunteers were on hand at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School, which has a primarily Chinese American population of around 730 students. Dr. Jeffrey Jang, chair of community dental health for the SFDS, described Monday’s screenings as “absolutely awesome” and said “the kids absolutely loved it.”

Open wide: Dr. Courtney Fitzpatrick, president of the San Francisco Dental Society, screens a student at E.R. Taylor Elementary School in San Francisco Tuesday.

At each of the schools, every student received oral health education, and pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, second- and fifth-graders were screened and those who needed additional treatment were referred to an outside dentist, Dr. Jang said. Every child also took home a backpack with a toothbrush and toothpaste donated by Colgate and a Sesame Street DVD featuring Elmo, Abby Cadabby and families modeling healthy behavior, activity sheets for the children and tips for parents.

At E.R. Taylor, screenings were conducted on the stage in the school library and in a Colgate van parked outside the school. The students waited patiently to be seen, reading picture books, giggling and talking with their friends to pass the time.

“I love connecting to the children and seeing how receptive they are to receiving care,” said Dr. Courtney Fitzpatrick, SFDS president.

The goal was to not only educate the students on oral health care but to transfer the positive messages to their parents, who ultimately make the decisions on dental care for their children.

“I don’t see any fear in their faces,” Dr. Faiella said. “If they can get a little bit of information about oral health care that they can carry with them the rest of their lives, it’ll be worth it.”

Wednesday’s event will be held at San Francisco General Hospital, where 150-200 families will receive oral education, screenings, fluoride varnish (if applicable) and other treatment as needed through the WIC program. WIC provides federal grants to states for nutrition education and health care referrals.

Representatives from the Native American Health Center will also be available on Oct. 17 to provide treatment for children who qualify.