U of M School of Dentistry provides critical care to underserved children
It’s no secret that most kids don’t look forward to going to the dentist. However, for growing children establishing oral health care early in life is highly connected to full body health. This weekend School of Dentistry students, faculty and staff joined dental institutions across the country to help shift perceptions about children’s dental health.
On Saturday, February 11, the School of Dentistry hosted its nineteenth annual Give Kids a Smile event. More than 200 volunteers — including DDS, dental hygiene and dental therapy students and faculty — provided care for approximately 80 children.
As part of the American Dental Association’s national Give Kids a Smile program, the School of Dentistry’s event provided children with comprehensive examinations, cleanings, sealants and fillings. Children received free care and a scholarship for continued preventative care, with the goal of establishing the School of Dentistry as their dental home.
Three learners from each DDS class formed a committee to lead the event, with three members of the Class of 2024 — Sara Henry, Benjamin Moore and Andrew Nguyen — taking on the organization as co-chairs. The group’s top priority was to give their young patients a positive memory in addition to caring for their mouths.
“The dental office can be a scary place for kids, and making it a fun experience sets them up for the rest of their life,” Nguyen explained.
Henry agreed. “For some of these kids, it’s their first time going to the dentist,” she explained. “We want to make it easier for them to keep coming back, stopping the cycle of poor oral hygiene.”
In addition to the patients, Moore appreciates the impact Give Kids a Smile had on the volunteers who joined on the day of the event. “This is a really great opportunity for our volunteers to see that there is a way to give back to the community,” he explained. “It’s especially valuable for our students, who can take this experience with them as they begin their careers.”
Putting the event together — and coordinating hundreds of people and moving parts — has been hard work, but it was worth it to see the smiles on kids’ faces as they departed from a successful and not-so-scary trip to the dentist, said the students. “I’m excited to send the kids home with oral care packages, including an electric toothbrush, that they’ll hopefully be excited to use,” said Henry.
Most of all, the co-chairs are grateful to be part of something bigger than themselves and their studies.
“We’re doing the work to coordinate this event, but that really means we’re bringing together everyone that makes it happen,” said Moore. “We couldn’t do it without the volunteers, the faculty and the administration. Just being able to see everything come together has been exciting.”
“It’s really cool that the dental school does this,” said Henry. “It has a real impact on the community, and it’s something everyone in the school knows about and is excited to be part of. It’s a really great day.”
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.