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Sharing smiles

GKAS coordinators collaborate on best practices

December 06, 2018

By Kelly Ganski

Group photo of GKAS ambassadors
2018 GKAS ambassadors: Participants for the GKAS Community Leadership and Development Institute in St. Louis include, from the top row left to right, Drs. Richard Bialick, Rebecca Glover Andrews, Tonda Helton; second row, from left, Dr. Courtney Burrill, Dr. Millie Tannen and Kayla Brantner; bottom row, from left, Carolina Salinas-Romero, Cristina Ortiz-Mattingly and Claire Cho.
St. Louis — Attending the 2018 Give Kids A Smile Community Leadership Development Institute reminded Claire Cho of the old saying about "a big fish in a small pond."

The University of Michigan dental student coordinates the GKAS program at her dental school, where student and faculty volunteer provide cleanings, X-rays, sealants, fillings and extractions to children ages 4-16 every year. Being around eight other GKAS coordinators from around the country, she felt the gravity of what she is a part of.

"I was amazed by the amount of support the St. Louis program received and also by the level of coordination happening throughout the institute," said Ms. Cho, who will graduate in 2019. "From the institute I came to realize what a big cause our school was supporting every year. It gave me a bigger sense of dedication and pride to be part of the GKAS program."

The GKAS institute, held annually in St. Louis, offers an opportunity for select GKAS program coordinators from across the country to share best practices, explore outreach enhancements and learn new approaches to providing oral health care services for underserved children.

Each year, Give Kids A Smile is celebrated nationally on the first Friday in February. GKAS events do not have to take place in February, and many take place throughout the year. GKAS programs are intended as touch points for children who do not receive dental care. The ultimate goal is to establish a dental home for these children and continuity of care, according to the ADA Foundation website.

Since 2011, 78 GKAS program coordinators have completed training at the St. Louis GKAS Institute. Ambassadors spent the first day and a half brainstorming and networking and the last two days volunteering at the St. Louis Give Kids A Smile fall clinic, where this year 550 volunteers served 370 children and provided more than $345,000 in donated dental care

"At the institute I was able to observe their amazing two-day program held in a single site in St. Louis," said Dr. Richard Bialick, of the San Diego County Dental Society. "This gave me insight into transportation, patient recruitment and supply distribution questions that I had with our program. I also met and worked with amazing people who will serve as invaluable information resources."

Ambassadors who applied and were chosen for this year's event received travel stipends to cover their travel expenses thanks to GKAS Institute sponsors Hu-Friedy and Henry Schein Cares.

The application period for the 2019 GKAS Institute will open April 1 through May 31. For more information on the institute, visit