In Support of Healthy Smiles

Harvard School of Dental Medicine Gives Kids A Smile

Every day, a child in the United States goes to school, camp, or simply the playground with a chronic infection. The child may not be sneezing or sniffling, but his/her teeth certainly are. Today, however, was a day for change. At Give Kids A Smile 2018, the students and staff at Harvard School of Dental Medicine decided to take a stand in support of healthy smiles and against those cavity bugs the dental world calls caries.

The students and staff at Harvard School of Dental Medicine take a stand in support of healthy smiles.

Tooth decay, commonly referred to as cavities, is the leading chronic disease among children, more common than even childhood asthma. Approximately 42% of children in the United States between the ages of 2 and 11 have dental caries, and nearly one in four children under the age of five already has a cavity. 80% of this decay is suffered by the poorest children in our nation.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Give Kids A Smile 2018

In addition, many children don’t have a dental home, a dental office to which they return on a regular basis for cleanings and exams , and, of course, for that coveted end-of-visit prize. Even among families that do have a dental home, many parents still have questions that arise between visits, such as how to brush and floss — especially with the wiggly young ones — when to be evaluated for braces, what to do about bad breath, how to obtain a mouth guard for sports, or what kinds of foods and drinks to eat for good oral health and how often.

No one factor explains why the need for dental care is so great. In the dental world, we consider everything standing between our patients and our clinics as a barrier to care. Barriers to care include financial limitations, distance to the clinic, time for appointments, language differences, among many other factors. And our goal in the dental world is to overcome! As a DMD candidate in the Harvard School of Dental Medicine Class of 2019, I envision in my dental career a world in which all of our children , in some manner , have access to dental care. A child’s healthy smile is never a privilege but a right, a right my dental colleagues and I aim to provide for our nation’s children. Just imagine a world in which we can provide education and preventive care to our children from a young age, such that their smiles remain healthy years into their adult lives. The idea certainly puts a healthy smile on my face.

A child’s healthy smile is never a privilege but a right, a right my dental colleagues and I aim to provide for our nation’s children.

Today, the students at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) took one active step towards making that smile-filled future a reality. Harvard School of Dental Medicine is a long-standing home to Give Kids A Smile. With support from the ADA Foundation with Henry Schein and Colgate, the Massachusetts Dental Society, the Harvard COOP and HSDM, the students and staff at HSDM rose once again to provide incredible care to the children of the Boston area. Volunteers from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Boston community gathered together and filled the clinic floor with smiles, enthusiasm, expertise, and of course, live, sing-a-long music. What’s a dental clinic, after all, without face-painting and sing-a-longs? Children and parents radiated smiles from chair to chair in our dental clinic, and no child was left without the gift of a smile. Exams, xrays, cleanings, sealants, fluoride varnish, and even needed operative and emergency care were provide at no charge to children and families who joined us today. With the help of an incredible, committed group of volunteers, each family learned techniques to maintain oral health at home. More importantly, each family took the first step in creating a dental home, providing that child continuity of dental care for a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Give Kids A Smile 2018

The American Dental Association began Give Kids A Smile in 2003 to serve underserved children. Under Dr. Jeff Dalin and Dr. B. Ray Storm, the original program in St. Louis, MO, grew from an annual event to a national program with services offered year-round. Each year, more than 1,500 Give Kids A Smile events occur throughout the United States with over 40,000 annual volunteers. In a single year, 300,000 children will receive care because of this philanthropic programming. As one of ten Give Kids A Smile Leadership Ambassadors with the ADA Foundation in 2017, I have seen the impact of Give Kids A Smile nationwide and am honored to work with Harvard School of Dental Medicine and all of our incredible volunteers and supporters to bring this program to the Boston area. The impact of a committed team is unparalleled.

In only 3 hours, 41 Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School students joined with 3 Boston Children’s Hospital pediatric dental residents, 2 pediatric dentists, 2 incredible patient liaison staff and countless other volunteers to provide dental care and education to 42 children and their parents. When a child came with pain, the volunteers addressed it. When a child was afraid, the dental team worked (and played) so that every single child would leave with a smile and laugh. As a team, Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s Give Kids A Smile volunteers and coordinators made a difference in the Boston community through oral health.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s Give Kids A Smile volunteers and coordinators made a difference in the Boston community through oral health.
Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Give Kids A Smile 2018

And we aren’t done. Give Kids A Smile happens every year at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. The Give Kids A Smile coordinators and student organizations at HSDM work year-round to provide access to dental care for children across the Boston area. With regular clinics Monday through Friday, HSDM also provides dental care to those seeking continuity of care and a dental home. As part of Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s Give Kids A Smile, we carry a mission to provide continuity of care. As such, children in need of dental care identified through the GKAS event will receive resources to obtain that care, whether those resources help the families overcome barriers of transportation, clinic costs, or other needs.

Our goal at Give Kids A Smile each year is to provide the children with tools for healthy smiles. In reality, not a volunteer, child or parent left GKAS without a smile glowing on his/her face. A smile is the truest sign of success.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine Give Kids A Smile was a team effort with student leadership provided by 2019 DMD Candidates Justin Montenegro and Mirissa D. Price, 2020 DMD Candidate Elodi Healy, and 2021 DMD Candidates Emily Chen and Owen Cheng.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Give Kids A Smile 2018

Mirissa D. Price is a 2019 DMD Candidate at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and future pediatric dentist. She serves as a Scholar of Dental Education at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and a Give Kids A Smile Leadership Ambassador. Mirissa’s research and outreach interests include social-emotional development in youth; addressing barriers and access to pediatric dental care; interprofessional collaboration; and dental education. As a child, doctors told Mirissa that she would live in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, crippled by pain. Instead, Mirissa uses her medical experiences to inspire others, living each day with a passion to spread pain-free smiles through her dental work, writing, improv comedy performances, and nonprofit work with children.

You can stay up to date with Mirissa’s writing at mirissaprice.wordpress.com and follow @Mirissa_D_Price on Twitter or Facebook. You can even take home a few inspirations of your own, at Mirissa’s Etsy shop, A Smile Blooms.

© 2018 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.