School of Dentistry celebrates 20 years of free dental care for underserved children
On Saturday, Feb. 3, the School of Dentistry hosted its 20th annual Give Kids a Smile event. The student-led team — with the help of over 200 volunteers — provided free oral health care to 64 children throughout the day, and built relationships that they hope will impact the children for a lifetime.
Established by the American Dental Association in 2003 — and joined by the School of Dentistry in 2004 — Give Kids a Smile is a national event that provides free dental care to children in need. This year’s event at the School of Dentistry was led by co-chairs and third-year DDS students Miranda Thacker, Alex Oberg and Emily Padilla.
Thacker, who worked as an assistant in a pediatric dental office, learned firsthand how important early oral health care is. “It makes an impact upstream to people’s health, in addition to the more obvious immediate effects,” she said. “As children begin to transition to permanent dentition, any knowledge we impart upon them can impact their oral health for the rest of their lives.”
This year’s event was a large undertaking: the school saw 64 children aged 15 and younger, providing examinations, X-rays, cleanings and fluoride varnishes as well as additional care that will extend beyond the day itself.
“The work of Give Kids a Smile does not end with the conclusion of the event,” said Thacker. “Follow-up appointments to complete treatment plans are covered by the organization until funds are exhausted. We also provide each child with oral hygiene products to take home.”
The interprofessional nature of the event was critical to its success, said Thacker. “We coordinated with dental hygiene students, dental therapy students, medical students and social work students to provide comprehensive care for the children who attended, as well as materials on speech screenings,” she said. “These collaborations emphasize the connection of oral health to systemic health.”
For the first time, this year’s event also featured a MNsure navigator on site, who could help determine if families qualify for coverage in a health plan and work with them to enroll.
The planning process was complex, and at times challenging, but Thacker credits the team of committee members, staff and faculty who worked together throughout the process with the event’s success. For all those involved, the opportunity to invite children to the school and create lasting relationships in a new dental home was the biggest reward.
“Any child we see the day of the event is encouraged to return to the School of Dentistry for their routine care, as having a dental home is essential to adequate, comprehensive care,” Thacker said. “We aim to eliminate as many barriers as we can to make our space a welcoming, inclusive place for all children.”
About the School of Dentistry
The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry advances health through scientific discovery, innovative education and the highest-quality care for all communities. As the state's only dental school, the School of Dentistry educates the next generation of oral health professionals and is a resource to five states for dental education and consultation. Of Minnesota’s practicing dentists, 72 percent are graduates of the dental school. Through its clinics, the School of Dentistry also sees more than 156,000 patient visits each year. Learn more at dentistry.umn.edu.