News + Issues

Give Kids A Smile: addressing barriers to care and future trends

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The American Dental Association began GKAS more than 10 years ago in an effort to treat underserved children. Many children experience barriers to dental care. Some children do not have dental insurance, some cannot afford the specific treatment needed or live too far from a clinic.

I co-chaired Give Kids A Smile (GKAS) 2014 at our school, The University of Minnesota.  It was tough work coordinating volunteers, patient flowcharts, supplies and staff.  I am incredibly thankful for my hardworking co-chairs and dedicated committee.  We had a successful event and treated nearly 200 patients.  We provided care that amounted to more than $45,000 (based on our school’s fees).

What are some challenges with GKAS?

Some patients do have adequate insurance or finances for treatment and simply come because the care provided on that particular day is free, which is not what GKAS was originally designed for. While some advocate that this is acceptable, those patients take appointments, supplies and donated dollars away from patients who otherwise have no other means to access the necessary treatments.  This epitomizes an opportunity cost regarding philanthropic dental care.  Screening patients for active coverage and specifically for the treatments they require is impractical during GKAS because it’s one of the busiest days in clinics.  In retrospect this is an issue that is inevitably encountered and will potentially never be solved.

There are still thousands of young patients in communities that are not touched by GKAS. How can we reach them?  One “laissez-faire” way is to acknowledge they may be picked up and covered by the Affordable Care Act’s pediatric dental benefit requirements.  While this offers a solution in most situations, parents can choose to abstain from purchasing dental benefits for their child. This varies state by state and it is important that we, as providers, understand current health coverage policies as it influences access to care. heck with your state dental board for coverage changes (ex: Minnesota Dental Association’s brief).

Although GKAS cannot solve the access to care issue on its own, the program profoundly impacts communities around the country. Dentistry’s core value is to improve oral health and GKAS is an opportunity to educate patients on the importance of maintaining their oral hygiene and the benefits to establishing a dental home.

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How can we increase GKAS’ impact in the future?

Communicating GKAS to different communities required cultural competency and even translating flyers and news briefs to different languages. Though we worked hard to penetrate diverse populations, I found some had already been aware of GKAS.  The morning of GKAS I did an interview at a news station and was told by the sound technician that he had publicized the event over an Ethiopian radio show a few days prior. Diversifying the patient population in GKAS through outreach will only improve the mission to treat as many patients as possible.

Coordinate with your ASDA chapter’s subcommittees such as elementary, high school, and community outreach, as well as the predental club committee.  Talk about GKAS within your clinics and especially with your pediatric patients’ families.  At the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry it is our biggest volunteer event and more than 340 students volunteered in 2014. GKAS is integral to each dental student’s experience and is something that many of our patients participate in.

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Give Kids A Smile has big goals. This event personifies why we all chose to pursue dentistry, which is to deliver optimal care to patients. It provides an opportunity to educate and treat patients. Most importantly, it is a place where continued care can be obtained, which is worth each volunteer’s time and effort. Get involved with GKAS at your school and in your community to further your educational experience, mature as a provider and positively impact your community.

-Stephen Grimsby, Minnesota ’15, co-chair, chapter Give Kids a Smile committee

Stephen Grimsby

Stephen is a fourth year student at Minnesota. Through his dental school career he has co-chaired the Predental Club Committee and Give Kids A Smile within MN ASDA and also is Vice President of his class. When he is not in school he is running with his dog around Minneapolis lakes.

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  1. Programs like these are truly essential, because the oral health habits of young children will set the stage for the rest of their lives. All children should have the opportunity to learn these necessary habits.

  2. What a great program! It’s hard enough being a parent and trying to schedule their child’s first trip to the dentist and when they should start flossing. But when it comes to this type of situation what a great opportunity for everyone involved and making a difference in the world. Keeping our children healthy should be our top priority and that should be for every child in the world.

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