Published February 7, 2017
Dozens of pirates armed with swords, eye-patches and tricorns loaded into the lobby of Squire Hall with a single goal: to give hundreds of Buffalo children healthy smiles.
The School of Dental Medicine’s annual Give Kids a Smile Day returned on Feb. 3 for its 16th year with a buccaneer theme. The program in Squire Hall on the South Campus provided free oral health care and education to more than 700 local children and teens.
Give Kids a Smile Day, held in partnership with the American Dental Association, New York State Dental Association and the 8th District Dental Society, is part of a national effort to teach children good dental health habits while they’re young to avoid major oral health problems later in life. Since the program began in 2001, UB has treated nearly 10,000 children.
“Dentistry is not always viewed as something fun,” said M. Dian ChinKit-Wells, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry who oversees the event.
“Part of this day is giving kids a smile, and in order to do that we needed to come up with a theme. We thought about pirates because we thought about a team that is all working toward one thing. And the one thing we’re working toward is healthy smiles.
“So instead of it being your regular type of pirates — troublemakers, not eating well or brushing — it’s pirates gone healthy; pirates of the dentition instead of the Caribbean.”
The pirate theme was not the only major change to this year’s Give Kids a Smile Day. The event, which typically treats young children in Head Start programs, welcomed 300 Buffalo high school students and dozens of students with special needs.
“What we’ve noticed is the adolescent population can be the forgotten group. They’re stuck between being children and adults,” ChinKit-Wells said.
“The sad thing is that is when (visiting the dentist) is most important. That’s when they really need to work on keeping their teeth clean, that’s when their wisdom teeth come in and that’s when we need to be there to answer questions for them.”
The introduction of care to students with special needs is the culmination of a yearlong effort by the School of Dental Medicine to increase its commitment of care toward the population. The school has partnered with Steven Perlman, founder of the Special Olympics Special Smiles program, to pilot courses and training programs that teach dental students how to treat patients with special needs.
“While S.O.S. is generally recognized as an acronym for save our ship. I have another acronym I’d like to share with you: S.O.S, save our smiles,” Perlman said. “Save the one feature of our face that announces that we are healthy, that we are happy, that we are cared for and that we are valued.”
The School of Dental Medicine is also the only university in the nation to treat patients with special needs as a part of Give Kids a Smile Day.
“This is Give Kids a Smile Day unified. It’s not just for children and young adults without special needs. It’s for everybody,” ChinKit-Wells said.
The program, which is held on the first Friday of February, is supported by hundreds of volunteers, including UB dental school faculty, staff and students, as well as private dentists and their staff who are donating their time to provide care.
Throughout the day, students receive dental treatment and cleanings. While they wait, they can enjoy hands-on activities, games, dental videos and oral health instruction from Blackbeard and local mascots.
The event also featured remarks by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein, UB President Satish K. Tripathi, UB Vice President for Health Sciences Michael E. Cain and UB School of Dental Medicine Dean Joseph J. Zambon.
“Since the founding of UB in 1846, service and engagement with our community has remained a pillar of our institution and is integral to our university’s mission,” Tripathi said.
“I’m pleased that today’s clinic will provide hundreds of local children with much needed dental care. And I’m proud to know that this event is just one of several community initiatives at the UB School of Dental Medicine that help reduce the barriers that some Western New York children and adults face when they seek dental care.”
As a pediatrician, Burstein said she knows firsthand “what an important role oral health plays in a child’s development. Poor oral health can lead to problems in growth, eating, speaking and learning, all factors that can affect school readiness.”
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children, and is five times more prevalent than asthma, she said, adding that one in five children have untreated cavities, leading them to lose hours of school instruction due to pain.
“Our Give Kids a Smile program is designed to address that problem by providing treatment today and followup in the coming weeks,” Zambon said. “I’m here with President Satish Tripathi and Vice President for Health Sciences Michael Cain to show the university’s continuing commitment to improve the health of children in Buffalo and Western New York.”
Brown concluded the remarks by proclaiming Feb. 3, 2017, as “Give Kids a Smile Day in Western New York.”
“It is a wonderful day to see our beautiful children and to thank the UB School of Dental Medicine for their commitment to providing free dental services to so many children in our community and some that might not be able to afford it without this special day,” he said.
Give Kids a Smile Day is one of more than 400 community outreach events the UB School of Dental Medicine holds each year. Along with Smile Education Day, the program is part of the school’s celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month.