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Scholars get advanced training in Give Kids A Smile strategies

St. Louis—As the St. Louis Give Kids A Smile program held its 20th clinic Oct. 28 and 29, seven volunteer ambassador-scholars sought a higher education in program success by watching, listening, questioning and working at the first ever GKAS University.

IMAGE: Volunteers see young patients at the St. Louis University Center for Advanced Dental Education
GKAS in action: Volunteers see young patients at the St. Louis University Center for Advanced Dental Education Oct. 28 for the 20th St. Louis Give Kids A Smile event. More than 600 children received free care valued at more than $415,000 during the two-day event.

The program was designed to help a handful of participants learn first hand how to initiate, expand and/or enhance their program, in part by working with the team that founded the children’s access to dental care program.

Participants not only observed and provided hands-on volunteer assistance at the two-day clinic, they also had the chance to brainstorm with the St. Louis program executive director, board of directors and other volunteers during the Oct. 26-30 GKAS University. Funding for the program was provided by a grant from the ADA Foundation.

“We are extremely proud to be the founders of the GKAS program,” said Joan L. Allen, the St. Louis GKAS executive director. “The opportunity to host the first-ever GKAS University to showcase our bi-annual free dental clinics was truly a remarkable experience. The scholars represented all parts of the U.S. We hope that what they learned from visiting our program and participating in a hands-on capacity will allow them to make significant changes and enhancements to their own Give Kids A Smile events.”

Since 2002, GKAS-St. Louis has served over 21,000 children with more than $5.6 million in dental care and related services. Volunteers at the October 2011 clinic provided 632 children with $415,413 in services.

“The scholars were hardworking, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the access to dental care issues in their own communities,” added Ms. Allen. “The ability to share their ideas and concerns with the group allowed everyone the chance to evaluate their own GKAS events, including the St. Louis group. We are grateful for their insight and compliments. The ability to make an impact on the oral health of so many children nationwide is a tremendous honor.”

The participants were enthusiastic about the welcoming atmosphere of the University program and were excited to have the opportunities to experience the large GKAS clinic in person and to share insights, challenges and successes with the other participants and the St. Louis GKAS volunteers and staff.

Linda Meyers, a dental hygienist from Council Bluffs, Iowa, said she came away from the experience “knowing I have three clear goals for the next few years for our program to continue to expand and experience the success we have had in the past. We need to develop a fundraising strategy, enlist more volunteers and establish a more structured planning committee.”

Ms. Meyers said the GKAS of Pottawattamie and Mills Counties has held four programs since it began in 2008 and served about 90 children per year. The program also initiated a rural prevention clinic two years ago that has reached an additional 200 children.

The rural clinic uses local dental hygiene students under supervision to screen, polish and apply fluoride varnish and sealants. The outreach program also coordinates needed follow-up care and referrals. “This is the part of my job that I love the most,” said Ms. Meyers. “It’s a great service for the kids, it helps students get familiar in working with children and it doesn’t cost the parents anything. It’s a win-win-win.”

Ms. Meyers said her program has worked to overcome the barriers that families in her community experience. “Our schools supply transportation to dental offices and the paperwork is completed ahead of time so parents do not have to be present. We feel we have drastically reduced the barriers of cost of care, transportation and parents’ missed work. I came out of GKAS University knowing I have clear goals for the next few years.”

The Northeastern Ohio Dental Society is planning its 10th GKAS on the national observance day, Feb. 3, 2012, at the Lakeland Community College Hygiene Clinic. Dr. Lisa Richards, GKAS chair and a pediatric dentist in Mentor, Ohio, said she hopes her GKAS University experience will not only help her increase the number of children served by the program, but also to provide education for parents on oral health and diet that can help the entire household.

“We will be ordering education materials to be sent home with the child,” she said. “And if parents accompany the child, we will provide one-on-one education with both the parent and child.”

Dr. Richards also hopes to develop a program to enhance use of free follow-up restorative care donated by volunteers after GKAS day.

“This is one of the barriers to our program because we have had difficulty with parents’ transportation issues. We are brainstorming for ways to make it easier for parents to make and keep appointments for free follow-up care.”

Dr. Richards said her favorite part of the University experience was being able to view the St. Louis clinic in action.

“It was very helpful to see how the patient flow was organized,” she said. “Of course I was impressed by the number of children seen, but also impressed that services such as oral surgery and endo were available.”

Cameron Chrystal, dental supervisor for Providence (R.I.) Community Health Centers Inc., said her facility’s GKAS program has grown from 32 patients in 2006 to 91 patients last year.

“There are few pediatric dental clinics in the state of Rhode Island, resulting in long waiting times for appointments,” said Ms. Chrystal. “On GKAS Day, we see new patients who have been waiting a long time to get an appointment. As a comprehensive pediatric dental clinic, we also commit to providing any follow-up care patients require at no expense to them.”

Kristi Love, hygienist and GKAS coordinator for Panhandle Dental in Guymon, Okla., said she was impressed with the St. Louis Tiny Smiles clinic that treats children ages 0 to 5 years.

“I sat on the Governor’s Task Force on Children and Oral Health in Oklahoma recently and one of the major concerns was how to reach children early,” said Ms. Love. “By implementing a Tiny Smiles event, we would be able to screen early, apply varnish, educate parents and caregivers and mainly prevent serious problems in the future.”

Volunteers for the Panhandle Dental GKAS, she added, span six counties and are held in dentists’ offices on dates set by the volunteers. A local coalition of schools, Head Start centers, faith-based organizations and family support groups also offer support for GKAS activities.

Her communities, she added, have geographic access to care issues, being more than five hours away from the state’s metropolitan areas. She plans to reach out to the Oklahoma University College of Dentistry to enlist dental student GKAS volunteers.

Emilee Langer, administrative director for the Salvation Army Dental Center in Oil City, Pa., said that the GKAS-St. Louis program’s Tiny Smiles and Smile Factory are two services that can be integrated into her local GKAS program.

The Smile Factory concept helps children seen at GKAS events to be matched with a volunteer dentist who will provide follow-up care or care that could not be completed at the GKAS event.

“I have already met with the local high school superintendent, and he is making plans to allocate a room in the school for use for dental screenings, and perhaps some simple restorative services by volunteers,” said Ms. Langer. “That way, kids won’t have to miss school or have transportation issues to address their oral health needs.” Ms. Langer says that they will work to expand their volunteer base to provide more follow-up care to children in the community.

She said she’d also like to add a screening questionnaire on oral health care for infants for the expectant mothers enrolled in the facility’s prenatal program.

“We’d want to follow up with them after the baby is born so we can get the child to a dentist by his or her first birthday,” she said.

For more information on Give Kids A Smile, visit the GKAS website, Or visit the GKAS Facebook page for the latest GKAS news,

IMAGE: GKAS University student ambassadors
Participants: GKAS University student ambassadors pause for a photo during the St. Louis Give Kids A Smile program Oct. 28. Pictured, from left, are Dr. Melissa Kennell, New Hampshire Dental Society; Dr. Lisa Richards, Northeastern Ohio Dental Society; Emilee Langer, The Salvation Army Dental Center, Oil City, Pa.; Monica Chavez, Tri-County Dental Society, Colton, Calif.; Cameron Chrystal, Providence Community Health Center Inc., Providence, R.I.; Linda Meyers, Council Bluff, Iowa; and Kristi Love, Panhandle Dental, Guymon, Okla.