On Friday, the UNC Adams School of Dentistry hosted Give Kids A Smile Day. The event, aimed at increasing accessibility and awareness for dental care, provided free dental exams, cleanings and oral health education for over 180 underserved children in North Carolina.
If a child has dental pain, he or she might not do well in school, might not thrive and could have lower self-esteem, said Jessica Lee, chairperson of pediatric and public health at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry. Lee said preventing these risks from dental issues is a key reason for hosting Give Kids a Smile Day.
The project was largely planned by the UNC dental students who participated in the hands-on pediatric care event for children who do not typically have access to health care.
On Give Kids A Smile Day, the students focused on making the day engaging and educational for children by giving out free electric toothbrushes and encouraging kids to smile for a picture with Rameses.
“Early intervention is so important, especially with children,” clinic co-chairperson and UNC dental surgery major Samantha Glover said. “It's so nice to be able to give them a positive experience at the dentist, which we're hoping to do here, and also be able to increase access to care.”
Lee said the event has evolved from offering checkups and cleanings to providing comprehensive care and performing extraction and crown procedures to alleviate pain.
“We have gone through the whole breadth of dental services we provide for children at no cost to them,” she said.
Caylen Bost, a dental student and another co-chairperson of the clinic, said the overall goal is to provide more than just one day of free health care for these families, since finding dental care can be difficult.
Bost also said hosting events like Give Kids A Smile Day offers necessary resources to those who have little financial flexibility.
She said she became interested in dentistry because of the reactions of her older brother, who has autism, during dentist appointments growing up, she said.
“I remember him crying and screaming, and with autism you don't really have the ability to communicate as neurotypical children can,” Bost said. “I remember that pediatric dentist at the time was really frustrated with him. She said, ‘I just can't handle this. I can't do this. I need some help.’ It was like she didn't have the patience for that.”
After that experience, Bost said she knew she wanted to focus on pediatric dentistry to create a better dental experience for neurodivergent children and families in general. She added that she plans to apply for pediatric residency.
“That’s kind of what I've always wanted to do — create a home where people can get any kind of care they want without feeling like they're not welcome in that office,” Bost said.
Bost and Glover started planning the community event in August and worked with the pediatric department, the clinical operations team at the dental school, local nonprofits and other organizations to support the project.
“We'd fundraised for the event, we'd written grants. A lot of work went into it, but we honestly couldn't have done it without the school support,” Glover said.
Bost said that after all the months of planning, she loves seeing families happy with the experience and that the event manifested into what her team had dreamed it to be.
The UNC Adams School of Dentistry’s Give Kids A Smile Day provided nearly $40,000 in dental care to underserved children, helping over 180 patients.
“I just honestly love that there's these service clinics that we're able to provide,” Glover said. “I think being able to have more of them geared towards children is something that would be so great."
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