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My View: Give Kids A Smile version 2.0 & more

January 18, 2016

Ray Tseng, D.D.S., Ph.D.

Ray Tseng, D.D.S., Ph.D.
National Children’s Dental Health Month is quickly approaching, and the ADA Foundation’s Give Kids A Smile program has been active for months, getting ready to support volunteers as they deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars of free services to children in need of dental care across the U.S. This remarkable program is now in its 14th year and has developed a strong identity among dental professionals. But for dental team members, old and new, maybe it’s time to look “under the hood” and see what the new and improved Give Kids A Smile is all about these days — and how you can take a few easy steps to help this program continue to grow.

One constant feature of Give Kids A Smile is that it’s routinely never the same. From children’s museums to NASCAR race tracks, GKAS events occur in a wide variety of venues, with a program designed to educate children about oral health and often provide preventive care in unique and innovative ways. Contemporary events include oral health education; discussions about good eating habits and the distribution of healthy, nutritious, teeth-friendly lunches; much needed dental prophylaxis and sealant services; and emergency or comprehensive dental treatment for children who otherwise would be unable to access these services.

Many of the children seen at screen-and-seal events are subsequently adopted by a dental home (which could be a dentist’s office, a dental school, a federally qualified health center, etc.) where professionals will provide further treatment in a safe and compassionate environment, setting the tone for a lifetime of good oral health. These programs highlight the growth of the purpose of Give Kids A Smile, which has evolved from one-time dental events to those that open the pathway to the establishment of a dental home.

Even the volunteers are changing. Dentists find themselves working alongside students from all walks of life, from high school to college to dental school, and all levels of education. Many of this year’s events feature professionals from dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, nutrition, education and public health working together in a health-fair setting, fully embracing the spirit of interprofessional education and service. This collaborative approach demonstrates a contemporary concept supported by the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations. Recent events have included a focus on obesity prevention and good oral health by taking a “healthy foods, healthy bodies, healthy mouths” approach.

The kids being served at Give Kids A Smile events are as diverse as those who serve. Children in need include those without dental insurance; refugees and orphans from Asia, the Ukraine and other countries that have been adopted by families and churches in the U.S.; children in rural and remote areas and those residing in urban settings; and children with special health care needs who do not have access to a regular dental provider.

Finally, GKAS events now occur throughout the year rather than just in February, which is National Children’s Dental Health Month. This year, in addition to GKAS screening events that will occur in February, other events will match volunteering dental offices with needy children in an ongoing fashion. Also planned are back-to-school dental checkups for needy children, set for just before school starts.

So, has everything about Give Kids A Smile changed? Of course not — the core principles of Give Kids A Smile have been and continue to be consistent: to provide support to enthusiastic and willing dental professionals who use best practices to give kids a smile. As a local organizer, and an ADA Foundation Give Kids A Smile ambassador, I’ve had the privilege this past year of collaborating with a great variety of GKAS volunteers and have seen how the multitude of GKAS events present an opportunity for anyone to get involved. Everyone has something to give and,  no matter how big or small that commitment, it can make a huge difference.  

I’ve seen firsthand what drives practitioners, event organizers and GKAS team members to give of their time and talents to help kids in need. But did you know that you can double down and boost your impact nationally with a few easy steps? By being sure to communicate with both your local dental society, and the ADA Foundation nationally, volunteers can make sure their efforts to help children are strengthened at both the local and national levels.  

One easy way to help grow the GKAS program and help even more kids is to register your program with the ADA Foundation both before (registration and application for supplies), and after your events (data reporting).

By taking these simple steps, you are helping the ADAF and the ADA to tell the full story of the philanthropic work being done across the country, directly raising awareness among supporters and donors to the Give Kids A Smile program and helping to build a national movement in support of kids’ oral health. It’s a win-win for everyone.

I encourage you in 2016 — don’t just watch the change, BE the change. If you’ve volunteered before, try adopting a needy patient (or two or three) at your practice to provide ongoing care. If you’ve done that for one, do that for a few more. Do you have marketing skills, people skills or organizational skills? Get involved with a local event. Do you know a family in need? Contact your local dental society to help connect them with a local GKAS event. Know a civic group that might want to volunteer and be involved? Get them connected with a GKAS organizer.

As Dr. Seuss, a great champion for children, once said, “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”

Dr. Tseng is the chair of the Committee on Children’s Dental Health Programs for the North Carolina Dental Society and an ambassador from the Give Kids A Smile Leadership Institute, Class of 2014. He wrote this for the ADA News.