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Give Kids A Smile’s 15th anniversary brings bright grins

February 03, 2017

By David Burger

Big news: A graphic of the Give Kids A Smile logo is emblazoned on top of the Nasdaq stock market's jumbotron immediately after GKAS leaders rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock market.
Newark, N.J. — The children receiving dental checkups Friday did not care that it was Give Kids A Smile's 15th anniversary or that leaders of the Association, ADA Foundation, officials and sponsors commemorated the occasion by ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock market that morning in Times Square.

They were just happy to be receiving checkups, many for the first time.

The Rutgers School of Dental Medicine Feb. 3 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.

"Give Kids A Smile is the largest children's oral health charitable program in the country," said ADA President Gary Roberts. "But it didn't start that way. It began with a simple belief that all kids in this country should have access to oral health services. That, and some elbow grease."

Dental students and dentists at Rutgers turned the School of Dental Medicine into a veritable funhouse for about 500 children who arrived in waves of yellow school buses. They were greeted by students who dressed as tooth fairies and welcomed the children into the school, which was festooned with colorful balloons and filled with magicians, arts and crafts stations, face painters and a lot of glorious noise.

Kids a-smiling: Isabella Cirino, 10, left, and Gabriella Kadamos, 9, beam as they leave the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine after a good check-up at the official kick off to the Give Kids A Smile season Feb. 3 in New Jersey.
Isabella Cirino, 10, and her classmate Gabriella Kadamos, 9, from Newark's Gray Charter School, were all smiles as they left the operatory after their teeth were examined and cleaned. They clutched red goodie bags and both said the experience was unmatched by any they had had before.

"Here is an exciting place," said Isabella. "It's not like going to a regular doctor. They are so happy, and they want us to smile."

The leaders and officials were ecstatic about what they witnessed. "This is a true win-win for everybody," said ADA Foundation President Dr. William Calnon. "It's all about people helping people."

Steve Kess, vice president of global professional relations for Henry Schein, has been with the program since the beginning. "For 15 years, the focus is the same — ensuring that kids have healthy smiles," he said.

GKAS is celebrated nationally on the first Friday in February to coincide with National Children's Dental Health Month, but more than 1,300 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 KaVo Kerr. Dignitaries from the sponsoring companies (which included CareCredit and Hu-Friedy), as well as representatives from the ADA, the New York State Dental Association, New Jersey Oral Health Coalition, the New Jersey Dental Association and other dental representatives were on hand at Rutgers. Special guests included Louis Sullivan, Ph.D., secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during President George H.W. Bush's administration, and Dr. Gerald Cardinale, New Jersey state senator. Dr. Cardinale, still a practicing dentist, read a proclamation from the New Jersey legislature that declared Feb. 3 as Give Kids A Smile Day in the state.

In a first this year, 3M has donated 3,000 introductory sealant kits to the ADA Foundation for use during the 2017 Give Kids A Smile program. The donation has an estimated fair market value of $250,000 and will help GKAS volunteers place more than 400,000 sealants on underserved kids' teeth in 2017.

Heroes helping: Tinkerbell, left, is played by Patricia Larosiliere, 27, and the tooth fairy, played by Nancy Vazquez, 34, pose as they pause helping children feel at ease at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine on Feb. 3 at the Give Kids A Smike kick off. Both women are fourth-year dental students.
Each sealant kit can provide about 140 sealant applications. One kit was included in each of the 3,000 Henry Schein Dental professional kits distributed to GKAS program coordinators who registered and were awarded products for GKAS programs in 2017.

The GKAS program began in 2002 in St. Louis, and 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.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, caries is the most prevalent infectious disease in children in the U.S., affecting more than 40 percent of infants and preschoolers by the time they reach kindergarten, and about half of all children from lower-income families.

The GKAS event was preceded the night before with the Give Kids A Smile 15th Anniversary Reception, held at the Harvard Club of New York City.

At the reception, Dr. Roberts spoke to the assembled crowd. "I want to thank all of you who are here for helping to make Give Kids A Smile an outstanding success," he said. "This program has been close to my heart for many years, and I'm touched by your individual commitment as well as the national support that has built over the years. Vince Lombardi was famous for saying that individual commitment to a group effort is what makes a team work, a company work and a society work."

Super duper: Captain Super Tooth, played by D.J. Brown of Delta Dental, checks out some children's goodie bags as he entertains them as they await dental treatment at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine at the official Give Kids A Smile kick off Feb. 3 in New Jersey.
Earlier Friday, Henry Schein opened the Nasdaq stock market by ringing the opening bell, joined by Dr. Roberts, Dr. Calnon and other officials and sponsors. Henry Schein has served as GKAS' official professional products supplier since the ADA launched the program nationally in 2003. Since the program's inception, Henry Schein, together with its supplier partners, has donated more than $15 million in oral care products to GKAS volunteers.

Before officially opening the market, Stanley M. Bergman, chair of the board and CEO of Henry Schein, spoke with Dr. Roberts about GKAS on Facebook Live, the latest interview in a series called "#ScheinChats."

"For too long, poor oral health has been a silent epidemic affecting our children, and for 15 years Henry Schein has supported the Give Kids A Smile program so that volunteer oral health professionals have the products they need to treat underserved children," Mr. Bergman said.

Mr. Bergman continued: "It is incredibly rewarding to share the Give Kids A Smile story with our partners at Nasdaq, and we look forward to many more years of celebrating this wonderful cause."

"The American Dental Association is committed to making sure our nation's children have access to a dental home," said Dr. Roberts. "We are proud to have a partner like Henry Schein that understands how great an impact the Give Kids A Smile program can have on kids in need. With their support, we have been able to bring smiles to the faces of millions of children and set them on a path to a lifetime of good oral health."

Dr. Calnon said that the program cannot rest on its laurels. "The next 15 years are built on the base of the last 15 years," he said.

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.