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VCU provides comprehensive care during GKAS

February 07, 2017

By Jennifer Garvin

Great outcome: 5-year-old April is all smiles after her Give Kids A Smile experience on Feb. 3. Here she poses with pediatric dental resident Dr. Hannah Rustin.
Richmond, Va. — She's only 5 but already April Rodriquez knows what's it's like to be in dental pain.

"Sometimes before she goes to bed she points to her mouth and tells me it hurts," her mother, Sara Diaz, told student volunteers during the VCU School of Dentistry's Give Kids A Smile event on Feb. 3.

More than 100 dental students, dental residents, faculty members, hygiene students and staff worked together to provide more than $82,000 worth of care that included 114 fillings, 75 extractions and 39 stainless steel crowns.
All of the children received dental exams and other preventive services. The event also involved multiple clinics within the dental school and included specialty care from pediatric dentistry, endodontics, oral surgery and periodontics. The school also helps arrange follow-up care with area dentists, which in this case, includes three root canals.

"It's really a great event," said Dr. David Sarrett, dean, VCU School of Dentistry.

The VCU Give Kids A Smile, which once was confined to the school's pediatric dental unit, has grown in the last two years under the guidance of Dr. Elizabeth Berry, the school's program director for pediatric dentistry. In 2015 Dr. Berry went to Dr. Sarrett to see about expanding GKAS to include a large portion of the general dentistry clinic. The expansion also enables VCU to perform more complex procedures as needed.

"I love it because it means more faculty and more specialties coming together to provide comprehensive care," Dr. Berry said.

Ninja power: Ameer Johnson, 6, flashes his goody bag and a smile following his visit to the VCU Give Kids A Smile event on Feb. 3 in Richmond, Va.
Once the children get to the clinic, the work begins. The school knows that many of its participants may be struggling financially or find it hard to return for follow up care, even when it's free.

"We try to get the difficult procedures done today," Dr. Berry said. "We've learned they can't always come back."

In April's case, volunteers were concerned because her mother had shared details of a possible allergy, which she attributed to a previous dental treatment and the local anesthetic her daughter received. Because the VCU team wasn't sure what the allergy was, they opted to treat the 5-year-old's cavity using nitrous oxide.

"Now this might make you feel tingly or like you're on a cloud," explained Dr. Hannah Rustin, as she fastened the nozzle over April's nose.

A first-year pediatric dental resident, Dr. Rustin reassured her young patient with the touch of a veteran.

"This is our motorcycle toothbrush," she said. "He bumps around going 'vroom, vroom' to help get the cavity bugs. What kind of cavity bugs do you have? Cookies? Chocolate?"

When it came time to work on the offending tooth, Dr. Bill Dahlke, a VCU associate professor and pediatric dentist, stopped by and advised Dr. Rustin to try and get as much of the caries out as possible.

"But only if she can tolerate it," he said.

Tooth fairy: Dental hygiene Vi Tran students gives a lesson in tooth brushing to a young patient.
With the help of her mother's hand and soothing words of encouragement, April sailed through the treatment without a single tear. For her stoicism, the staff rewarded her with one of the "special" presents it had on hand: an animal drawing kit.

"We cut some of the cavity out and we're going to put some medicine in and hopefully that will stop it from getting any bigger before she can get to the dentist," explained Dr. Rustin to April's mom, Ms. Diaz, regarding the silver diamine fluoride treatment she performed on April.

Her mother was ecstatic.
"They were really good to her," Ms. Diaz said. "I'm so happy."

A floor below, another pediatric dental resident, Dr. Brandy Edmonds, was performing a dental exam on 6-year-old Ameer.

To Ameer's mother, Kyra Johnson, she asked, "Has he had any complaints of pain?"

"No," Ms. Johnson replied.

"Does he grind his teeth a lot?"

That question produced a nod.
"Yes, I can hear him doing it at night."

When the exam was over, Dr. Edmonds directed the Johnsons back to the waiting room. Ameer was cavity-free but she recommended a cleaning and sealants for his permanent molars. After a short wait, the two were escorted upstairs where fourth-year student Ashley Anderson and second-year Kate Parkman awaited.

During the cleaning portion, Ms. Anderson, who was recently accepted into the pediatric residency program at the Medical College of South Carolina, explained the proper way to floss Ameer's teeth to Ms. Johnson.

Scenes are common every day at VCU, but GKAS is special.  

In addition to GKAS, Dr. Sarrett said VCU practices "robust community engagement" efforts year-round with initiatives that include sending fourth-year students to work in dental clinics across Virginia for seven weeks and at the program's annual humanitarian mission in Jamaica.

"We hope it presents a better understanding of the needs of people who really need help, and broadens their minds," he said.
As it did in 2016, the school also plans to host a second GKAS in July.

GKAS is the ADA Foundation's signature children's oral health access to care program. Since 2003, GKAS volunteers have provided free dental services to more than 5.5 million underserved children. Visit for more information or to make a donation.