The halls of UB’s School of Dental Medicine resonate with the excited voices of hundreds of children participating in Give Kids a Smile Day.

When it comes to dental care, these children have the greatest needs -- they do not have access to dental care and for the majority it’s the first time they are going to the dentist.

There doesn’t appear to be an ounce of trepidation among the youngsters. They are very excited about the prospect of their first dental visit and that’s one of the goals of this day of free dental care, which has been held every February for the last 11 years.

This year, 600 children – including students from the Buffalo Public Schools, Head Start preschoolers and those whose parents booked an appointment – participated in the day-long event on Feb. 3.

While Give Kids a Smile Day entails dental exams and treatments, the emphasis is on making the youngsters comfortable with a dental visit and encouraging them to adopt good dental health habits at an early age, preventing major problems later.

The experience, says M. Dian ChinKit-Wells, DDS, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry who oversees the event and the year-long planning that makes it possible, “changes their vision of dentistry overall.

“There are balloons all over, everybody is all happy. It’s ‘give kids a smile day.’ Not ‘give kids dental treatment day.’”

Held as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month, the event is a partnership with the American Dental Association and the 8th District Dental Society.

“It’s an access-to-care program,” ChinKit-Wells explains. “It’s for those children that do not have a dentist, do not have health insurance, do not have transportation. It’s a program to break that barrier down so that they can get free dental care.”

Rewarding Practice

UB dental students get as much as they give through the School of Dental Medicine’s extensive community dentistry programs.

“It’s an access-to-care program. It’s for those children that do not have a dentist, do not have health insurance, do not have transportation. It’s a program to break that barrier down so that they can get free dental care.”

—M. Dian ChinKit-Wells, DDS, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry

With more than 150,000 annual visits to its clinics and sites, UB’s dental school is the largest provider of oral health care in Western New York.

The dental school’s Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry has been serving the children of Western New York since 1917. Today, more than 50,000 patients, including medically and physically compromised children, each year visit its seven locations for hygiene instruction, sealants, cleanings and comprehensive dental care.

Give Kids a Smile Day is a mammoth undertaking with major community commitment. Among the several hundred volunteers who keep the day running smoothly are UB dental school students, faculty and staff; private local dentists and their staffs; and faculty and students from Erie Community College's Dental Hygiene Program and the UB Equal Opportunity Center's Dental Assisting Program.

UB dental students play a pivotal role, seeing pediatric patients and doing hands-on dentistry. More important, says ChinKit-Wells, “is that they see that a program as big as the University at Buffalo can shut down for a day and open up their doors for free treatment. We hope they will take this to their private practices when they graduate, that they will take this need to give back to the community so that everyone can be taken care of.”

Give Kids a Smile Day originally was limited to the dental school and its clinics in Squire Hall on UB’s South Campus. Because the need is great and to accommodate more children, it now also includes the university’s Pediatric Dentistry Department Office on Abbott Road in South Buffalo.

Children participating at the two sites receive a free dental exam, fluoride treatment, x-rays, sealants and oral hygiene instruction. Limited restorative dental work is available, as well as additional treatment or consultation as needed.

Children – and parents in the case of those who attend – are offered tours of the dental clinics, hands-on activities, dental videos and oral hygiene instruction.

At a Teddy Bear Clinic in nearby Harriman Hall, the Head Start preschoolers make their way through a series of stations where they learn about health and health professions by taking care of large stuffed animals, brushing their teeth and “examining” them for medical problems.

When they leave Give Kids a Smile Day, the children carry with them a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss, as well as instructions on how to keep their teeth healthy.

They also walk away with the knowledge that a visit to the dentist can be a pleasant experience.

child smiling in dental chair

To support the School of Dental Medicine’s service to children, make a gift to the Pediatric Dentistry Resource Fund

Dental x-ray

Among the top dental schools in the U.S., the School of Dental Medicine is known for the quality of its DDS and postgraduate programs and its long history of leadership in oral biology research.

Mobile Dental Unit

In a community outreach dating back to 1997, the dental school operates a mobile dental unit providing free dental screenings and care for uninsured children and those with Medicaid coverage at 21 elementary schools in rural Chautauqua County, south of Buffalo. The unit has logged some 40,000 visits. Eighty percent of the young patients whose lives it touches identify the van as their “dentist.” The dental school has received a $500,000 federal grant to design and build a new larger, mobile unit.

graphic of a toothbrush on wheels

Smile Education Day

Each February, all 400 of the dental school’s students, joined by dentists in the community, participate in the dental school’s Smile Education Day, visiting more than 30,000 third- and fifth-graders in schools throughout Western New York to promote good oral health. UB's dental school is the only school in the nation with such an outreach effort.