Many kids are scared of going to the dentist, but when you add in a dance party, a therapy dog and a Tooth Fairy in a big pink gown, the situation becomes a lot more palatable.
That’s the experience the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry provided to nearly 150 kids from the community during the national kickoff of Give Kids A Smile on Friday. Dental school students and faculty members pitched in to create a fun and memorable experience for the kids, providing more than $20,000 of free dental screenings and cleanings.
Danielle Burgess, a third-year dental student at Carolina, said she hoped the event would help the kids get comfortable with the idea of going to the dentist and practicing healthy habits.
“If we teach these children the importance of dental hygiene, flossing, brushing, I think it’s a habit they’ll build into their lifestyle and take with them into adulthood,” she said. “Sometimes going to the dentist gets a bad rap, but if we can change their outlook of dentistry early on, I think it will change their lives.”
Burgess was one of more than 160 students who volunteered at the event, which is sponsored annually by the American Dental Association Foundation. Some students provided cleanings and cavity fillings, while others helped kids practice brushing teeth on denture-clad stuffed animals, introduced them to the school’s resident therapy dog GRAYSON or dressed up in party hats and costumes.
The event also included a full-body health fair to teach kids about a variety of healthy habits, including handwashing and balanced eating. Volunteers from the UNC School of Nursing, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC Athletics participated in the event to create a day of healthy fun.
While the UNC School of Dentistry has participated in Give Kids A Smile for six years, this marks the school’s first time hosting the nationwide launch with the American Dental Association. Nationwide, the event will provide dental care to 345,683 children.
“It feels awesome to be here at UNC for this event,” said Jeffrey Cole, president of the ADA. “I’m so glad we can work together to keep these kids smiling. I think it’s so exciting to see the students, the faculty, everybody rallying around as one big family to make this happen.”
Because dental health issues such as cavities are most common in children from low-income families, the event allowed dental students to play an essential role in early childhood oral health intervention for underserved children.
Stephanie Companioni, a third-year dental student and clinical coordinator for the day, said she hoped the event would encourage children and their parents to establish dental care moving forward.
“We’re happy to be here and to have so many volunteers from our school and our community to help out,” Companioni said. “A lot of these kids haven’t had the experience of going to the dentist, so we have a lot of fun things planned for them, and we’re hoping that after the event they can establish either UNC or somewhere else as their dental home.”