On a cold Friday this past February, when I was a second-year dental student, I passed through the school atrium and saw student doctors dressed up as tooth fairies and playing games like Wheel of Dentistry. There were countless kids having their faces painted and laughing through a magic show while eagerly awaiting their dental visits. It was Give Kids A Smile Day at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM).
Launched by the ADA in 2003, Give Kids A Smile is now a program of the ADA Foundation. It has provided free oral health services to more than five million underprivileged children, ages 12 and under. Next year marks the 15th anniversary of this national annual event, and the ADA Foundation plans to help the dental community provide quality dental education and care to even more children at no cost.
At RSDM, the children receive an examination and a prophy with fluoride treatment. They are taught proper oral hygiene habits and advised to avoid sugary foods and drinks before bedtime to prevent cavities. Follow-up visits are made for kids with high risk of cavities or in need of more extensive treatment.
Although GKAS Day 2017, the national GKAS kickoff, is still a few months away (save the date for Friday, Feb. 3!), Nov. 7, 2016 is the deadline to sign up and be eligible for a free product donation from Henry Schein, which will help offset costs related to GKAS volunteer efforts.
It is a great honor and privilege to now be serving as a student member on the New Jersey Dental Association GKAS Committee. Making even a small difference in the lives of these children is rewarding and allows me to further appreciate the career path I have chosen. While the first dental visit is recommended at age one, GKAS Day often marks an underserved child’s very first dental visit.
I witnessed first-hand the importance of pediatric dental care from my experience treating my first pediatric patient last week. He was 12 years old and became a patient at RSDM because he didn’t have access to dental care otherwise. After seating himself in my chair, he told me he was in a lot of pain. That’s what I expected based on his radiographs. Both the attending dentist and I explained to him that the tooth that was bothering him had a big cavity close to the tooth nerves, and to make this pain go away, he needed to see a specialist doctor (an endodontist) to treat and save the tooth. If he had waited to see us, the cavity could have progressed to the point where the tooth could not be saved. And it’s not easy to tell a child that he or she is losing a tooth for good. I was able to provide him treatment during the same visit by removing a smaller cavity on a different tooth. He expressed his gratitude by giving me a coloring book picture of a scarecrow and pumpkins, with the words “thank you” written on it. This experience made me realize how important it is to explain to kids how to properly clean their teeth and make regular dental visits in order to maintain optimal oral health.
I’m very excited for the upcoming Give Kids a Smile Day, especially since my own school, Rutgers, will serve as the national kickoff location. I encourage dental students and new dentists across the country to get involved and participate in GKAS 2017 through their dental school, local or state dental societies, or with dentists in their communities. If you’re unsure of how to get involved, contact the ADA Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck as you plan for GKAS 2017, and don’t forget to sign up with the ADA by Nov. 7! Let’s make GKAS 2017 the best yet!
~Anudeep K. Grewal, Rutgers ’18