Skip to main content
Toggle Menu of ADA WebSites
ADA Websites
Partnerships and Commissions
Toggle Search Area
Toggle Menu
e-mail Print Share

Smiles for puppy love

GKAS Institute in Oregon a success

March 16, 2015

By Kimber Solana

photo of GKAS participant
Thanks, Nutmeg: Chance Lawrence, 7, pets Nutmeg, a 10-week-old labradoodle and therapy dog-in-training, while sitting on a dental chair. "I did so good because I was petting Nutmeg," Chance said about his dentist visit at the Feb. 28 Give Kids A Smile event at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry.
Portland, Ore. — Chance Lawrence, 7, was nervous as he sat on a dental chair, shaking his head "no" when Dr. Melissa Wages asked him to open his mouth.

Then Nutmeg, a 10-week-old labradoodle therapy dog-in-training, arrived, laid down on his lap and closed her eyes.

"I was scared," Chance said, about his visit to a dentist. "But I did so good because I just kept petting Nutmeg."

Chance was one of 168 children seen and treated during the Feb. 28 Give Kids A Smile event held at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry's new facility. After his dental treatment, he was all smiles as he joined his fellow Boys & Girls Club members in a "Frozen"-theme decorated auditorium classroom to wait for others to finish their visit — for some, their first time — to the dentist.

Like Chance, Lora Mattsen, executive director of the Multnomah Dental Society, had a case of nerves the morning of her 12th GKAS. The event this year was being held in a new location — the dental school's new facility opened in July 2014 — and given the number of children expected to attend and coordination of volunteers, she knew things could get hectic.

Organizer: Lora Mattsen, Multnomah Dental Society executive director, rally the volunteers of this year's Give Kids A Smile event at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry in Portland. The event  included over 125 volunteers who examined about 170 kids from the Boys & Girls Club in the area. She was one of 10 GKAS program coordinators who attended the 2014 GKAS Institute in St. Louis.
"We made some small changes this year, along with moving this event to a new location," she said. "So I was little concerned."

But instead of Nutmeg, Ms. Mattsen relied on her past GKAS experience and what she learned from the ADA's 2014 GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute last Oct. 22-25 in St. Louis to calm her nerves. Ms. Mattsen was one of 10 GKAS program coordinators who received grants to attend the 2014 GKAS Institute, which offers participants an opportunity to learn proven best practices to initiate, expand and/or enhance a GKAS program. The program is sponsored by Hu-Friedy, Henry Schein Cares and the ADA Foundation.

"I picked up several key ideas I could use to make our event a success," she said. "And I was able to share some of how we've been doing and how we've handled some challenges we faced."

At the Portland GKAS, before the buses bringing the kids from the Boys & Girls Club arrived, the ninth floor of the dental school was all hustle and bustle.    

photo of GKAS participant
Waiting: Mariah Fisher, 9, has a laugh while playing with Boys & Girls Club staff members in the waiting area of a GKAS event at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry in Portland, Ore.
Dental students, in bright orange shirts, ensured volunteers — including third- and fourth-year dental students, dental assistant students, residents and faculty — were readily available to greet the children at any of the 56 dental chairs in the facility.

Dr. Phillip T. Marucha, OHSU School of Dentistry dean, said the volunteers would provide sealants, caries restorations and even stainless steel crowns.

Meanwhile, on the second floor, the children waiting to be treated were kept busy by a balloon artist, coloring books, the movie "Frozen" and a skit on how to keep your teeth healthy performed by OSHU dental students.

Some of the children also had a chance to tour the facility's simulation clinic for a short presentation on what it's like to become a dentist.

"I had a lot of fun," said Mariah Fisher, 9. "I got my teeth cleaned. My dentists were really cool."

A couple of examples Ms. Mattsen learned from the Institute that she implemented at this year's event included taking a photo of each child during the prescreening days, held earlier in February at three Boys & Girls Club of Portland locations. The photo was placed on each of the children's folders, which held their paperwork, including the dental service they were to receive at the GKAS event.

"Another thing I learned was to make sure all kids get a sack lunch," she said. "We made sure we had a food coordinator so the kids get plenty of nourishment while they're here."

Another Institute lesson was the orange T-shirts that certain volunteers wore which identified dental students who were in charge of making sure their peers and faculty were at the right places at the right time.

photo of GKAS participant
Willing participant: Janeva Boynton, 7, raises her hand to take part in a dental education skit by OHSU dental students.
"We started a little later than we wanted because some of the kids didn't have their wristbands," said Ms. Mattsen. The bands were color-coded to indicate the level of dental treatment. "But once we got going, the workflow seemed to go very smoothly thanks to the top notch volunteers."

Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Ms. Mattsen, who has organized her local GKAS event since 2004. Four years ago, it almost came to a halt.

She relied on the local school district's nurses for connecting her with underserved children, when, while planning for the next GKAS event, they told her they no longer had the resources to continue participating.

"We sort of went into panic mode. My dental society wanted to continue GKAS because the need is so great for our area," she said. "Multnomah County's public water is not fluoridated, and we have a huge population with dental care problems."

That year, in 2011, she found a solution: The Boys & Girls Club of Portland. The partnership, Ms. Mattsen said, has been more than she could have hoped for.

"They're such a great community resource. They said, 'Yes! We want to do it,'" Ms. Mattsen said. Since then, the Boys & Girls Club has connected the dental society to children who are in need of dental services.

"It's been an evolving process and we want to continue to improve our events and partnership every year."

In all, the Feb. 28 event provided more than $37,000 worth of dental services. Including two other GKAS-related events in Portland earlier in February, Ms. Mattsen said, more than $70,000 worth of free dental services was provided to children in the Portland area.

photo of GKAS skit
Brushing teeth: Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry students host a skit showing kids from the Boys & Girls Club in Portland, Ore., how to clean your teeth by brushing.
The Boys & Girls Club of Portland also conducted dental education activities dedicated to eating right and proper brushing technique during the month of February.

"We wanted to make sure we gave the kids something fun to do to get them excited for their visit to the dentist," said Sarah Fast, senior director of special initiatives for the Boys & Girls Club of Portland.

"This event is so important for our community and for us to be involved in," said Dr. Wages, a second-year pediatric resident who is training Nutmeg to become a therapy dog when she opens her practice. "There are a lot of kids who fall through the cracks between state and private insurance. It's important to be able to reach those needs, and GKAS is a great outlet for that."
Despite the success, Ms. Mattsen is already looking toward improving and possibly expanding next year's event.

"We have the capacity to see more kids," Ms. Mattsen said. "We'd like to reach other kids who need dental care but who aren't necessarily Boys & Girls Club members. I'd like for us to get to seeing 200 kids next year."

Information regarding the 2015 GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute will be posted on the GKAS website as soon as it becomes available. GKAS program coordinators or those who know someone who is interested in attending should continue to visit