On Saturday, February 6, the Harvard Dental Center’s Teaching Practices were filled with small patients in neon sunglasses. Nearly 50 kids, ages one to seventeen, were there for free dental screenings as part of the annual Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) event. The sunglasses were for eye protection during their dental treatments, but they added an extra cool factor as well.
For some children it was their very first time in a dental chair. Knowing this, HSDM students created a fun atmosphere where kids had a chance to learn about positive oral health habits, participate in educational arts and crafts, and have their faces painted.
“It totally transforms dental care for the kids. It makes it a party,” said Tracy Balboni from Roxbury who brought her two children Ava and Caleb.
Give Kids a Smile was organized by DMD students Mirissa Price, Sara Tejani and Chloe Wong. The students coordinated with Dental Center and HSDM staff Sherry Wilson-Johnson, Yves De Jesus, Niulka Martinez, Susan St. Martin, Latifa Halhoul, Celia Chacon, Latisha Gunter, Juana Colon, Lia Sgourakes and others to make the event possible. They planned and promoted the event months in advance—creating flyers in several different languages, and reaching out to schools, churches, Head Start programs, and radio stations to spread the word within the communities surrounding HDSM.
“The majority of the patients that come to the event do not have a dental ‘home,’ said Dr. Zameera Fida, director of predoctoral pediatric dentistry. “We actually get a lot of patients who have either just moved to the country or state, so this is an excellent opportunity for us to provide oral health care for our local community.”
Give Kids a Smile is also an opportunity for HSDM students, from first to fourth years, to get hands-on experience working with young patients. Twenty-two HSDM students volunteered to work in the clinic or provide oral health education at the event.
“Everyone was so wonderful and kind,” said Andrea Hatch a parent who brought three children to GKAS. “None of the kids were scared. It’s nice to know they were so well taken care of.”
With one GKAS event under their belts, the organizers are already planning ahead.
“We have collected some great feedback from patients, parents, and volunteers and hope we can continuously work to make GKAS bigger and better with every year,” said Chloe Wong.