Bulletin of Dental Education

San Juan College Partners With ‘Give Kids A Smile Day’ for Over 20 Years

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The San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program teamed up with the local dental society to once again participate in the national Give Kids A Smile® (GKAS) event on Friday, Feb. 2. This is the 21st year that the San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program has participated in and hosted this event. From 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., dental hygiene students and local dentists and their staff provided dental care, free of charge, to underserved children in the community. 

The Story Behind GKAS 

In 2002, GKAS began in a soon-to-be-demolished dental clinic in St. Louis, MO, where 15 patient chairs were scraped together to deliver free dental care to nearly 400 children. The American Dental Association recognized that this grassroots effort had great potential to raise national awareness about the importance of oral health to overall health and about the staggering need that exists among millions of children who go without oral care. So in 2003, GKAS evolved into a nationwide program with the goal of providing free oral health care to underserved children.

Each year, approximately 6,500 dentists and 30,000 dental team members volunteer at local GKAS events to provide free oral health education, screenings and preventive and restorative treatment to over 300,000 children. GKAS events kick off annually on the first Friday in February, which is also Give Kids A Smile Day. GKAS events are held throughout the year, across the United States. To date, over 7 million underserved children have received free oral health services through the GKAS program.

Local Collaborations Support the Annual Event 

In Farmington, NM, GKAS started in 2003 as a collaboration between the Northwest District Dental Society (NWDDS) and the San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program (SJCDHP). At the inaugural event, 36 children were seen in Farmington.

The initial GKAS event consisted of volunteer dentists assisted by dental hygiene students taking radiographs, doing dental examinations and screenings and referring the children to dentists in the community for final treatment. In 2006, the inefficiencies of this system caused a switch to the current system of providing as much comprehensive care as possible on the day of the event. Although some of the more extensive or long-term care such as orthodontics, endodontics and oral surgery are still referred out, the vast majority of the work is done on the day of GKAS.  

Over the years, the Farmington GKAS event has treated more than 2000 patients and done over $2 million worth in donated dentistry. Over the years, local collaboration has included the NWDDS, New Mexico Dental Association (NMDA), SJCDHP, local schools and the community. The GKAS event has faithfully hosted in the SJCDHP dental clinic every year without fail since 2003.  

During the event, San Juan College dental hygiene students will provide patients with oral hygiene education, radiographs, prophylaxis and fluoride. Community dentists will provide oral examinations and dental treatment. In addition to the dentists volunteering at the clinic, community orthodontists, endodontists and oral surgeons have volunteered to accept referrals at no-cost from the GKAS effort.

What’s Offered?

The GKAS program has a great deal to offer. It provides oral health care to children in the community in need that otherwise may not be able to afford it. Dental cavities are the number one reason for children missing school because of toothache. Treating these children gets them out of pain and allows them to attend school and concentrate on their schoolwork. It also provides an opportunity for families to establish relationships with area dentists and often to establish a dental home in the future so that the oral health of the entire family is improved. 

The event provides an opportunity for dental hygiene students to work in a public health project and see how community and volunteer health care events function. In addition, students often are able to see patients and complete procedures required for graduation. 

It affords an opportunity for local dentists interested in hiring a hygienist and students near graduation to interact and gain experience working together. This fosters professional networking and possible future opportunities for both dentists and students. Dentists and staff also gain continuing education credits by supporting these events. 

Overall, the GKAS event offers everyone an opportunity to give back to their community. Currently, there are 1022 GKAS events nationwide and only 5% of those (51) can claim they have been doing it for more than 10 years. And an even smaller handful have been doing it for 20 years, like Farmington.

Published on February 14, 2024

Courtesy of San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program

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