Nova Southeastern University’s Give Kids A Smile (NSU GKAS) event celebrated 11 years of service in February. It has become one of Florida’s premier dental outreach campaigns. Last year, we provided dental care to more than 320 children, totaling $115,797 in services. This year, we yielded similar results, and even expanded treatment to special needs patients.
Children ages 2-18 are invited to attend from the different Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County. With our GKAS team of 30, we set out to recruit patients from these under-served areas. Recruitment ultimately determines the fate of our event. If we fail to rally interest within our community, there is no GKAS. We therefore hand select a group of motivated, outgoing students to routinely visit these sites. In the final days leading up to our GKAS, we call each family to confirm their participation.
We are determined to provide less fortunate children in our community with the dental care they need and deserve. Our pediatric dental program was awarded the Patriot Grant, which allows these children the opportunity to continue dental treatment with the residents at Nova Southeastern. More than 194 children have been referred for the Patriot Grant, which provides a maximum of $200,000 in dental services. This lends to the sustainability of our service initiatives.
With a clown, face painter, balloon artist, DJ and a cast of characters from Elsa and Anna to the Transformers, the children couldn’t be more at ease. The Miami Dolphins cheerleaders and HEAT dancers were there, too. Children were more accepting of dental treatment with so many distractions around. We have seen some families for years on end because of this attention to detail. Our predecessors organized everything down to the details, and this sense of mentorship helps maintain the quality of our program. This one-day event takes four to five months of planning, so build your network carefully. It demands around-the-clock leadership and decision-making.
GKAS has improved cultural competency for students by establishing a baseline tolerance for the diverse communities that we treat. Patients come from a variety of backgrounds, speaking languages and practicing traditions unaccustomed to us. Our work with these demographics improves our cultural awareness, teaching us how to better accommodate the needs of other ethnic groups. It also provides a unique opportunity to work on pediatric patients and develop behavioral management skills.
We strive to become a model for other dental schools both as a structural basis for student leadership, and more notably, for community outreach. We briefly worked with LECOM’s School of Dental Medicine to help them start their program. They were incredibly successful, especially for a new school. Next year, we hope to represent the American Dental Association (ADA) as their annual GKAS kick-off event.
Our program serves as a platform for awareness of barriers to care. While it only eliminates the cultural, geographic and financial barriers that day, it raises awareness for these central issues. Throughout the year, our students continue to visit schools in the surrounding areas to educate them on the value of good oral hygiene. Here, they reinforce what was learned at GKAS, and even offer a toothbrush-toothpaste starter kit to take home. We are proud to have received the 2014 ADA Foundation Dental School Student Community Leadership Award for these ongoing efforts.
Overall, NSU’s GKAS provides a new perspective to attending patients on the value of a dental home. This event does not serve as a one-day cure-all. It exposes parents and children to the severity of their dental needs and the value of proper home care and hygiene. Their commitment to our program marks a paradigm shift in how our community sees dentistry. We can’t wait to hear about your GKAS event!
~Kelly Cundy, Nova Southeastern ’16 and Adam Saltz, Nova Southeastern ’17, chapter Give Kids a Smile coordinators