Smiles on the faces of patients and providers were still discernible even through layers of masks and PPE at Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s recent Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) event. The annual event, held each February during Children’s Dental Health Month, offers an opportunity for kids ages one to 17 to receive free dental care.
Stephanie, a mother who brought in four-year-old Ellie for her first appointment, watched as her daughter received care from dental students. “She was scared at first but now she’s all chatty. This is awesome!”
“The pandemic has created financial strain and has further contributed to a lack of access to dental care for many individuals,” Ziwei Chen said. “Preventative dental care is always important for all patients; however, children are a vulnerable population whose normal day-to-day routines have been turned upside down. GKAS gave us the opportunity to detect changes in oral hygiene habits and dental problems early so that these kids will not have a dental emergency as an additional distraction from their life and learning,” she said.
In-person appointments were capped at 24 patients to allow for social distancing on the clinic floor in the Harvard Dental Center’s Teaching Practices; however, virtual tele-dentistry appointments were offered to 75 families which allowed providers to expand care beyond the clinic and accommodate more than three times the number of patients virtually.
According to Dr. Sang Park, associate professor of Restorative Dentistry and Biomaterials Sciences and associate dean for Dental Education, HSDM was one of the first dental schools to pioneer the tele-dentistry concept at Give Kids a Smile.
Patients who were seen virtually at the event were also offered follow-up visits to receive free in-person care at a later date.
“I am proud that we were able to coordinate with HSDM staff and faculty to host virtual appointments this year. I'm glad we could try something new to provide one more avenue of oral care to the public,” Jessica K. Murphree said.
Give Kids a Smile offers an educational component as well. This year, DMD students found creative ways to share lessons about oral health topics they would usually share in person by creating videos on dental hygiene and diet, proper brushing and flossing methods, and the importance of a dental home and regular x-rays.
“In addition to being a cherished tradition, GKAS is a special opportunity for HSDM as an institution to give back to the communities that we vowed to serve,” said Chen.