campus news

Giving kids a smile at the science museum

In a break from tradition, the School of Dental Medicine's annual Give Kids a Smile event moved from Squire Hall to the Buffalo Museum of Science, which was hosting a Curious George exhibit. Photos: Cass Mcallister


Published February 9, 2024

Meelin Dian Chin Kit-Wells.
“If we can make a trip to the dentist seem non-threatening and even fun, we’ve won half the battle. ”
Meelin Dian Chin Kit-Wells, clinical assistant professor of pediatric dentistry
School of Dental Medicine

UB Dental School and SUNY Erie Dental Hygiene School host 23rd annual Give Kids a Smile event at Buffalo Science Museum

Students from the School of Dental Medicine and SUNY Erie Dental Hygiene School teamed up with everyone’s favorite monkey, Curious George, to emphasize the importance of healthy teeth and gums during the 23rd annual Give Kids a Smile event on Feb. 5 at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Approximately 150 volunteers provided more than 250 schoolchildren with services, including oral health screenings and fluoride applications. The young visitors also learned the best way to floss and brush, and played games and worked puzzles tied to the museum’s Curious George exhibit. The second- through 12th-graders arrived at the museum from seven local schools, the majority from within the Buffalo Public Schools.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and the American Dental Association (ADA)-sponsored Give Kids a Smile is a centerpiece program, benefitting between 350,000 and 400,000 children annually.

“Give Kids a Smile has a dual purpose: to address the immediate dental needs of children who would otherwise go without care and to raise awareness about the pressing need for a more comprehensive health care system that prioritizes our children’s dental health,” Marcelo Araujo, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, said in a short ceremony that kicked off the morning of activities throughout the museum.

Araujo noted that dental cavities, also known as caries or decay, is the most common chronic childhood disease, and children with poor oral health miss more school and have lower grades than children without cavities.

“Community initiatives such as Give Kids a Smile aim to provide immediate care, strengthen the safety net and promote diseases prevention and education,” he said. “It is crucial to recognize that oral health is integral to overall health.”

Araujo’s remarks were followed by those of other local dignitaries, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and BPS Specialty Program Officer Parette Walker, both of whom praised UB and SUNY Erie for their commitment to the community and the health of its most vulnerable citizens.

It was also noted that the important day would not be possible without the efforts of the many volunteers and the leadership of Meelin Dian Chin Kit-Wells, clinical assistant professor of pediatric dentistry, who served as the event’s organizer.

“I am extremely proud of our students and other volunteers who came out to enthusiastically connect with children who may not have access to quality oral care,” Chin Kit-Wells said.

The students provided short and friendly lessons to the children who flocked to their tables, demonstrating what healthy gums look like, what different hygiene instruments do, and how to save a tooth if it gets knocked out — put it in a cup of milk.

“Not only did our young visitors learn preventative oral health tasks that can serve them their entire lives, but they also interacted with students and dental professionals in a relaxed environment,” Chin Kit-Wells said. “If we can make a trip to the dentist seem non-threatening and even fun, we’ve won half the battle.”

After all, in the book “Curious George Visits the Dentist,” which volunteers read aloud to the children in a few different languages, the underlying message is that there is nothing scary about the dentist or wobbly teeth.

Prior to the event, Chin Kit-Wells advised the dental students not to shy away from using scientific words, such as avulsion and laceration, with the children while also employing a gentle approach to assuage any fear the kids might have.

“That,” she said, “is what dentistry is: a mix of science and love.”