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GKAS in Chicago

Milestones reached as UIC annual observance soldiers on

February 13, 2013

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

Dr. Indru Punwani

Dr. Bruce Graham

Dr. David Miller
They were there when it all started, and it's clear that they are all the way with Give Kids A Smile—to this day.

On Feb. 5, the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry entered its second decade of treating underserved children for GKAS in concert with the ADA. At a news conference to herald the day's activities and acknowledge dedication to the program, the dental school thanked Dr. Indru Punwani, former head of the pediatric dentistry department at UIC and an early champion of GKAS.

Dr. Punwani semi-retired last year, but his tireless stewardship of GKAS continued as he headed up the 2013 observation at the UIC dental school, which is celebrating its 100th year. Dr. Punwani resounded the ongoing need for GKAS and other interventions that provide relief to children hit hard by unmet oral health care needs.

“Fifty percent of children starting kindergarten already have oral disease, the commonest chronic disease of the times,” he told a classroom full of local media, dental and medical professionals. “The demographics of early childhood caries demand that children receive an oral assessment and counseling by their first birthday so we can prevent rather than repair the aftermath of this very preventable disease.”

Dr. Joseph Hagenbruch, ADA 8th district trustee, who represented the ADA at the UIC observation, was among the impassioned oral health advocates on hand to discuss how GKAS has evolved in addressing some of the unmet oral health care needs of children nationwide.

“In the last 11 years, Give Kids A Smile has become the world's largest oral health charitable program and the American Dental Association's signature program relative to access to care,” Dr. Hagenbruch told the audience. “With this year's event, I am proud to tell you that 5 million plus underserved children have received free dental care services through Give Kids A Smile, and those are just the ones we know about. Literally countless charitable acts go on every single day in the United States relative to dentistry by individuals, many of whom will remain unsung.”

Leaders meet: Dr. Joseph Hagenbruch greets Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at UIC's observance of Give Kids A Smile on Feb. 5.
Two groups of 57 children, ages 1-12 from St. Malachy's School on the city's West Side and El Valor social services agency, received free oral screenings, oral health care education and samples of toothpastes, toothbrushes and other supplies in the UIC dental school's clinic. Meanwhile, an assortment of media, politicians, dental and medical professionals heard from a roster of other access to care advocates. They addressed what their organizations are doing or have planned in 2013 and beyond to meet the unmet oral health care needs of children in Chicago and Illinois.

Said Dr. David Miller, chief, Division of Oral Health, Office of Health Promotion, Illinois Department of Public Health: “We have a robust—and one of the greatest—sealant programs in the country. Since its inception in 1986, we've seen over 1 million children and placed over 2 million sealants all across this state. That's because of the support of the citizens of Illinois and those who've been involved in the program over the years.”

Dr. Miller also said, “Ever since former Surgeon Gen. [David] Satcher in 2000 mentioned that oral health care in America was in an epic crisis, and [UIC faculty member] Dr. Caswell Evans was one of the authors of that report, we have responded and Give Kids A Smile is part of that response.”

Tooth fairy: Dental students Meredith Gantos (outfitted as the Tooth Fairy), Mariam Saeed (center) and Vikash Huliyar teach a young patient about oral care at UIC's observance of Give Kids A Smile on Feb. 5.
Said Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president: “We all know that access to health care is not equally distributed in our society; particularly children from low-income families, and low-income seniors have difficulty securing the care that they need and that includes access to quality health care, and that means in Cook County we're looking at a countywide system of care encompassing hospital and clinics and directly engaging communities and neighborhoods.

“We need to create a coalition of stakeholders committed to work together to improve access to oral health here in the Chicagoland area. So I'm very grateful to this institution for the good work that it does.”

Other speakers and guests were Dr. Rodney Vergotine, president, Illinois Society of Pediatric Dentists; Dr. John Rutkauskas, chief executive officer, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry; Dr. George Zehak, vice president, Chicago Dental Society; Jennifer Woodward, president, Illinois Medical District Commission; Henry Taylor, chief executive officer, UIC Mile Square Health Center; Jae Ryu, M.D., associate vice president for professional practice and chief medical officer, Office of the Vice President for Health Affairs, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System; Dr. Bruce Graham, dean of UIC College of Dentistry, and Caryn Bills, UIC Associate Chancellor.

As access to care issues continue to evolve and efforts abound to address them, Dr. Punwani mentioned another UIC milestone at the GKAS event.

“To date, we have focused our energy and resources on the oral health care of infants, young children and preteens,” he said. “We have now decided to extend our focus to meet oral health needs of the older adolescent population. As these pre-adults start their journey to move into college and the job market, it is important that their self-image and their oral health needs are taken care of.

“In addition, we hope to expand service to children with special health care needs and complex medical needs. With the recent discontinuation of the adult Medicaid program in Illinois, this expansion takes on additional urgency.”

Dr. Miller summed up well the challenge of addressing access to care needs for children and others without adequate oral care in Chicago and Illinois.

“Really what it takes is leadership, the leadership of Dr. Punwani and Dr. Graham here at the University of Illinois,” he said. “The leadership of President Preckwinkle, who has a thousand things to do but decides to be here and understands that oral care is important; the leadership of the Chicago Dental Society and the Illinois State Dental Society; and, of course, leadership from our Gov. Pat Quinn.”