Give Kids a Smile Day is the best day of the year at the School of Dental Medicine.
Published January 13, 2020
Two huge yellow school buses pull up to Squire Hall on the South Campus and let out their passengers, children ranging in age from about 3 to 7. The kids stream into Squire, home of the School of Dental Medicine, where they meet volunteers who greet them and assign them to student escorts.
Welcome to the 12th annual Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) Day.
“GKAS is a day dedicated to the awareness of and the access to oral health,” said Dian ChinKit-Wells, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry and GKAS clinical coordinator. “The scope of treatment includes restorations, extractions and orthodontic consultations, dental sealants, fluoride treatment and the completion of required school dental health forms.”
GKAS Day, held this year on Feb. 1, provides free dental care for children who don’t have access to regular dental care.
And it gets bigger and better every year, according to Tracey Fest, patient care coordinator for the Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry and event coordinator of GKAS. “The program grows every single year; we’ve never seen this volume of children from the past years,” Fest said, noting that 800 children were expected to visit the dental school during the eight-hour event. “Each year it does get better because we are more organized. Today, we have about 350 volunteers that we coordinate efforts with.”
Those volunteers included faculty, staff and students from the UB dental school, as well as dental hygiene students from Erie Community College and UB’s Educational Opportunity Center and private Western New York dentists.
This is the fifth year that the whole Fest family has been involved in the event. Fest’s two sons, Colin, 13, and Mitchel, 11, served as private patient escorts.
“I feel really grateful to be part of it because of all the kids we’ve helped and the free dentistry. At the end of the day, it’s a really good feeling knowing that you’ve helped so many kids,” Colin said.
This year’s theme is “Dental Heroes—We have the Courage to Care.” In keeping with the theme, some volunteers wore superhero capes. Most of the dental heroes—including tooth fairies and the Teddy bear mascot—gathered in Harriman Hall, site of the popular Teddy Bear Clinic. The Teddy Bear Clinic often is the last stop of the day for the kids after they receive their dental care.
“We plan the fun activities for the kids so after they get their teeth cleaned, they can come over for a little education session,” said Melissa Pyc, a registered dental hygienist who serves as Teddy Bear Clinic coordinator. “There’s a lot of hand-washing, some dental education, things about safety—fire and police officers are here from Buffalo. So, it’s kind of the fun part of the day where all the kids get to relax.”
“We are here because our kids do not have dental insurance,” said Katie Preston, whose 5-year-old son, Zachary, had a few cavities filled; Mason, 4, and Bran, 1, had their teeth cleaned. “This event is definitely helpful because just one cavity that Zachary had with the X-ray would cost us $350,” she said.
Among the patients were 60 to 70 Amish children from Pennsylvania.
Tom LaGree, a third-year UB dental student, said the Amish children, many of whom have never seen a dentist, came to UB because it’s the closest dental school where they can find this kind of program.
“This gives us an idea of the impact of this program,” which has expanded over the years to reach communities outside the Buffalo area, LaGree said. “There’s no turning anyone down.”
Give Kids a Smile Day is held as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month in collaboration with the American Dental Association and the 8 District Dental Society.