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GKAS: Spreading smiles at Nova Southeastern University

February 05, 2016

By David Burger

Trekking in: Children from Broward County public schools make their way toward Nova Southeastern University's dental clinic during the College of Dental Medicine's national kickoff event for Give Kids A Smile Feb. 5.
Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla. –   Justis and Martha are students at Fort Lauderdale High School and until Feb. 5 had never seen the care of a dentist.

"I want a tooth out," said Martha, 17.

"I have cavities and I need a filling," said Justis, 16, clutching a balloon animal.

Each would get their wish as they were a part of Nova Southeastern University's College of Dental Medicine's Give Kids A Smile event. The school Feb. 5 hosted the national kickoff for the ADA Foundation's Give Kids A Smile program, the nation's premier oral health access-to-care program for underserved children.

ADA President Carol Gomez Summerhays was on hand, and she praised the commitment of the NSU students and faculty. "It's perfect to have it in a school," she said of the kickoff event. "There's such great energy."

Hands-on treatment: Third-year Nova Southeastern University dental students Charlie Gray and Angela Butala treat a child during the College of Dental Medicine's Give Kids A Smile kickoff event Feb. 5.
Hundreds of children in need of dental care visited NSU's dental school, where volunteer dental students and faculty provided dental services such as screenings, cleanings and preventive treatments. More than 750 children would be seen at the college's 100-chair clinic before the day was through. That number dwarfed NSU's GKAS event the previous year, when 320 kids were seen..

GKAS is celebrated nationally 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 more than 300,000 underserved children.

Support for the GKAS program comes from national sponsors Henry Schein, Colgate and DEXIS. Dignitaries from the sponsoring companies, as well as representatives from the ADA, the Florida Dental Association and other dental representatives were on hand to witness the enthusiasm exhibited by about 500 NSU dental students and faculty as school buses continued pulling up to the front of the college throughout the morning and early afternoon.

Stanley Bergman, chairman and CEO of Henry Schein, walked through the aisles in the large clinic, talking to students and praising the work of the dental college's dean, Dr. Linda Niessen, whom he called "the energy dean of dentistry." Later in the event, he joked, "Why is everyone so happy?"

"When you think that many kids are seeing dentists for the first time, it brings tears to your eyes," said Michele Penrose, director of global professional relations and development for Henry Schein.

"This is one of our proudest days," said Dr. Barbara Shearer, director of scientific affairs at Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals.

Painting fun: A young boy waiting to be seen at the dental clinic at Nova Southeastern University's College of Dental Medicine gets his face painted. The face-painting was part of the school's national kickoff event for Give Kids A Smile Feb. 5.
Candy Ross, director of industry and professional relations at KaVo Kerr Group, the parent company of DEXIS, told the students before the event started that the program was about "changing your lives as well as the kids' lives."

Dr. Irene Marron-Tarrazzi, the ADA's second vice president, traveled from Miami to observe the event. "I'm impressed with the way they've made it child-friendly and welcoming," she said. "This is the right way for kids to have their first dental experience."

Shark attack: Nova Southeastern University dental student Adam Saltz, Dr. Linda Niessen, dean of the dental school, and George Hanbury, Ph.D., president of NSU, model the university's "fins up" salute during the school's national kickoff event for Give Kids A Smile Feb. 5. Sharks are the school's mascot.
Dr. Niessen demurred all compliments and instead pointed to the dedication of GKAS student leaders Adam Saltz and Kelly Cundy, along with their team of student volunteers, who had spent nearly a year planning the largest GKAS program the school had ever hosted.

"This did not come from the top up," said Dr. Niessen. " The students exemplified our core values of being student-centered and giving back to the community."

The dental students and the faculty were not the only ones in action. Timmy the Tooth, Dr. Seuss's Thing 2, clowns, two man-size carrots, Elsa and Anna from "Frozen" and two Miami Dolphin cheerleaders were among the guests who welcomed the children as they waited in line to be seen. The children were entertained by activities ranging from face-painting to dance parties led by a DJ stationed at the front door of the facility.

Kudos: Stanley Bergman, chairman and CEO of Henry Schein, thanks Dr. Linda Niessen, dean of the Nova Southeastern University's College of Dental Medicine, and George Hanbury, Ph.D., president of NSU, for hosting the national kickoff event for Give Kids A Smile Feb 5. Henry Schein, Colgate and DEXIS are the national sponsors of GKAS.
Inside the clinic was "organized chaos," as described by Dr. Niessen. At one balloon-festooned station, third-year dental students Charlie Gray and Angela Butala worked a four-hour shift cleaning children's teeth as they were overseen by a faculty member.

"It's a big sense of accomplishment that our school can provide this," said Mr. Gray. Asked why he was there, he responded, "I'm doing this because I want to, not because I have to." Being chosen by the ADA Foundation to be the kickoff event for the national program meant a lot to the students, he said.

Ready: The dental clinic of Nova Southeastern University's College of Dental Medicine lies in wait before the first kids enter the clinic as part of the university's national kickoff for Give Kids A Smile Feb. 5.
The GKAS program began in 2002 in St. Louis, and then the ADA launched the program nationally in 2003 as a way for dentists to join with others in the community to provide dental services to underserved children. More than 5 million underserved children have received free oral health services since the program's inception. These free services are provided by about 10,000 dentists annually, along with 30,000 other dental team members.

GKAS events are intended to be touch points for children who do not receive dental care, for whatever reason. The ultimate goal for a GKAS program is to help establish dental homes for these children.

For more information about Give Kids A Smile, visit and for the latest news, visit the GKAS Facebook page. Use #GKAS on Twitter for a look at what's happening around the country.