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Superheroes, princesses help kick off the national GKAS celebration at A.T. Still University

February 06, 2015

By Kelly Soderlund

A princess in waiting: Second-year dental students, Lori Wycliffe, left, dressed as Cinderella, and Mimi Bankiewicz, dressed as a fairy, pose with Lacie Bolin, 8, as she waits to be treated.
Mesa, Ariz. — The first clue was Cinderella standing on the corner.

Then there was Cruella de Vil. Then Alice in Wonderland. Then the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

It was 7 a.m. at A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health and it was not your average day. The official uniform for the day was not only Disney and superhero costumes, it was scrubs.

ATSU on Feb. 6 hosted the national kickoff for the ADA Foundation’s Give Kids A Smile, the premier access to care program. Hundreds of children in need of dental care visited the dental school, where volunteer dentists, faculty and students provided dental services such as cleanings, sealants, fillings and extractions.

“For many of these children that we’re seeing today, this is their only dental visit,” said Dr. Jack Dillenberg, dean of the dental school. “It speaks to the heart of what the A.T. Still University School of Dentistry & Oral health is all about.”

One more smile: Leaders from the ADA, sponsor organizations and dentistry pose in one of the GKAS clinics at ATSU. From left, Candy Ross, director of industry and professional relations for DEXIS and a member of the ADA Foundation’s Board of Directors; Dr. Jeff Dalin, GKAS founder; Dr. Jack Dillenberg, dean of the ATSU dental school; ADA President Maxine Feinberg; and dental student Sara Ceglio.

The national GKAS event is always celebrated on the first Friday in February to coincide with National Children’s Dental Health Month but more than 1,500 GKAS events are held throughout the year around the country, providing dental services to about 350,000 underserved children. Support for the 2015 GKAS program comes from national sponsors Henry Schein, Colgate and DEXIS.

“As a child who suffered from baby bottle syndrome, this program really touches me,” ADA President Maxine Feinberg told ATSU students.  “The difference you will make for a child today is enormous, and you should be very proud.”

First- and second-year dental students dressed as Disney characters and superheroes greeted the children, who were pre-screened and came from 10 different sites around Mesa. They mingled with Pocahontas, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Snow White, the Incredible Hulk and more as they waited to be seen.

Fantastical day: Marodin Aghassi, first-year dental student, dressed up as Tweedle Dum for the GKAS program.

Mesa resident Teresa Lawler waited as her niece, Emma Jane Goins, 9, was being treated. Emma Jane had been in severe pain for about two months from two teeth that were bothering her, Ms. Lawler said. Her parents don’t have dental insurance and can’t afford to take her to a dentist so she brought her to the GKAS clinic.

“This clinic is so neat,” Ms. Lawler said. “It’s been a blessing.”

Many of the children who visited the GKAS clinic don’t have a dental home and their parents can’t afford dental insurance or the out-of-pocket cost of visiting a dentist. But despite having never or rarely seen a dentist, most of the children took it in stride.

Giggly patient: Alexandra Marin, 8, laughs after having topical fluoride varnish applied on her teeth by Dr. Sarah Silverstein, left, and third-year dental student Sahar Yaftaly.

“Are you nervous at the dentist or is this pretty easy for you?” Dr. Andi Livingood asked 8-year-old Angel.

“A little nervous,” the boy said.

Dr. Livingood described the nitrous mask she was going to put on Angel while she examined him.

“It makes you look like a fighter pilot,” she said.

Dr. Livingood, who practices in California, was one of many ATSU alums who came back to volunteer at the GKAS event.

2015 GKAS sponsor logos
“I had a wonderful dental school experience and now I’m all grown up and a pediatric dentist, so I figured why not come back and help out,” Dr. Livingood said.

Dr. Sarah Silverstein, a resident at the University of California-Los Angeles, was another ATSU alum who volunteered. She had the pleasure of applying topical fluoride varnish on a very ticklish Alexandra Marin, 8. Alexandra popped out of the chair dancing to the music from “Frozen,” which was playing throughout the clinic.

“Do I get to see Raphael now?” Alexander asked of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle as she clapped her hands and giggled. “I have a crush on him.”

After the children were treated, they were escorted to a slew of tents in the parking lot to play games, mingle with the costumed dental students and dance to music. They could also stop by the Super Chefs of the Universe booth to learn how healthy eating and nutrition affects their oral health. The organization teaches children about eating well through hands-on activities and the children who visited the booth at ATSU got to make pasta and play with balloons shaped like apples.

The children walked out of the clinic smiling and happy, ready to dance and play. The ultimate goal and mission of GKAS was fulfilled.

“We want to make sure every boy and girl in this country is proud of the smile that they have,” Dr. Feinberg said.

Use #GKAS on Twitter and Facebook for a look at what’s happening around the country.