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UNC School of Dentistry selected as ADA Foundation national kickoff site for Give Kids A Smile

Since the UNC School of Dentistry began holding an annual Give Kids a Smile Day event in 2014, the school’s students have provided just shy of $40,000 of in-kind care to nearly 300 children who attend Durham Head Start in Durham, North Carolina.

A student dressed up like a toothfairy talks with young children.
Laura Sundmark, a first year dental student, plays the role of the tooth fairy during the UNC School of Dentistry's annual Give a Kid a Smile event on February 2, 2018, at the Koury Oral Health Sciences building in Chapel Hill. The event provided free cleanings for Durham Head Start students. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The dental chair can be a scary place for any 5-year-old.

Fortunately, the students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry are here to help children overcome that fear.

For the past five years, the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry has hosted children from the local community in February for its annual Give Kids A Smile Day event. Each year, more than 200 dental students, residents, faculty and staff from the UNC School of Dentistry provide oral health care services that include oral screenings, fluoride varnish treatment, and referrals for continued care to another facility as necessary.

Since the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry began holding an annual Give Kids A Smile Day event in 2014, the dental students have provided nearly $40,000 of in-kind care to almost 300 children who attend Durham Head Start in Durham.

“Give Kids a Smile serves as an opportunity for us to reach deeper into our communities and help balance the scales of disparities among children,” said Michael Davis, a doctor of dental surgery student. “On February 1, 2019, we will have another chance to collaborate with our healthcare colleagues to not only change the oral health trajectory for many children in need but their overall health. I’m honored that the American Dental Association Foundation selected us to kick off this nationwide initiative that began nearly 17 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri.”

According to a 2014 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ report, more than 18 million low-income children went without dental care, including routine exams, that year.

The Give Kids A Smile program aims to address the need for oral health care across the country by providing free oral health care services, including screenings, fluoride treatments and the establishments of dental homes to children to children from low-income families, preserving their children’s smiles for their lifetime. Since the ADA Foundation’s GKAS program began in 2003, half a million volunteers have provided free oral health care to more than 5.5 million underserved children. In 2018 alone, nearly 300,000 children received care at 1,469 events across the country.

A unique focus of the GKAS event at UNC-Chapel Hill is its interprofessional aspect, providing more than just free oral health care to the three-to-five-year-old children who attend the event. Students from the UNC School of Medicine, School of Nursing, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Gillings School of Global Public Health and the athletics department participate in the event, which includes a health fair that allows the children to learn age-appropriate tips and best practices for their overall health.

This February, the school will serve as the American Dental Association (ADA) Foundation’s national kickoff site for the Give Kids A Smile program.

“This is an incredible honor for our school, and we are humbled and excited that the ADA Foundation selected our school as its national kickoff site,” said Scott S. De Rossi, dean of the UNC School of Dentistry. “Being selected is a tribute to our students, who tirelessly plan, organize and put on this event each year. Give Kids a Smile Day is another example of how our students, residents, staff and faculty passionately serve our community, and I could not be more proud that our school will serve as the national kickoff location in 2019.”

The school expects to have more volunteers and serve more children than in previous years as the event will span an entire day, not just a morning.

“The ADA Foundation is excited about the 2019 GKAS national kickoff event being hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry,” said Dr. Bill Calnon, ADA Foundation president and interim executive director. “The enthusiasm already portrayed is palpable. This student-led program will provide education and treatment to more than 350 children. It will serve as an example to answer the challenge of UNC leadership to move ‘beyond excellence.’”