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UNC dentistry school provides care to local families at annual event

The UNC Adams School of Dentistry set out to put a smile on kids' faces last Friday — with the help of the tooth fairy herself. 

On Feb. 5, the dental school provided free care to local children at its annual Give Kids a Smile event. 

Give Kids a Smile is a national student-run event that occurs on the first Friday of February to celebrate National Children's Dental Health month, said Dr. Jessica Lee, the pediatric and public health chairperson at UNC. 

Lee said she hopes the event will draw awareness to dental health as an emerging public health issue and a largely unmet need. 

Tiara Portillo, a parent who brought her two children to Friday's event, said it has been challenging to get her children to a dentist during the pandemic, but the event made it convenient for her to do so. 

She hopes her children will take dental care seriously after attending the event.

Although GKAS usually invites all children in need of care, it was modified to fit COVID-19 guidelines this year. Only children of essential frontline workers were seen, Lee said. 

"They kept us safe during this pandemic," Lee said. "This is our way of thanking them." 

Student facilitator Hannah Smith said she hopes their services will draw children and parents back to seek care at the school in the future. 

"A lot of patients we saw became regular patients of the school," Smith said. "That's really rewarding for us to not just provide care for the day, but to help these kids find a dental home."

Lee said she hopes GKAS will also affect student volunteers, motivating them to provide services to those in need in their future practices. 

"This is a service they should be providing when they graduate," Lee said.

Smith said she hopes those who attended Friday's event left with a sense of relief. 

"We hope they leave wanting to take care of their teeth and wanting to come back to the dentist," she said. 

In addition to the dental services provided, the event featured an appearance from Laura Sundmark, who has dressed up as the tooth fairy for the last four years. 

Sundmark said she believes her presence as the tooth fairy adds to the experience and helps promote the event's goal.  

"I think it was really refreshing to see the belief in kids," Sundmark said. "The belief for them to know they're going to be okay trusting a student doctor or a dentist." 

Lee said UNC's dental services are open to everyone, and she hopes the community will take advantage of them. 

"We don't turn anyone away," she said. "We're sometimes the place of last resort for a lot of families that don't have access to care. We provide care anywhere from the housekeeper's kids to the physician's kids and everyone in between. And we're very proud of that fact."

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