Give Kids a Smile
Walk-in appointments were welcomed all day during the Feb. 18 Give Kids a Smile event, but there was just one issue: The turnout was more than double what student organizers expected. As the minutes crept closer to the scheduled ending time for the free dental care event, second-year dental student Leke Olowokere walked into the waiting area of the pediatric dentistry clinic to a room full of parents with their children, still waiting to be treated.
Even though all 12 chairs in the clinic were in use, no sooner would one patient shuffle out of the clinic than another would take a seat in the second-floor waiting space.
“I felt like there was a ton of tension in the room because they knew that we were on the edge of sending them home,” says Olokowere, vice president for community outreach with Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s American Student Dental Association chapter, which organized the event. He braced to tell the room full of hopeful patients that no more would be seen, but it never came to that. The remaining volunteers decided to stay more than an hour longer to see every last child.
The large number of patients waiting late in the afternoon began to make sense when fourth-year dental student Theresa Halle tallied the number of check-in cards. Approximately 140 patients were seen during those nine hours, with sealants placed on 234 teeth. The event, which also included exams, cleanings, fluoride varnish, goodie bags and activities, was well-received by families in the surrounding community: Numbers surged even from 2016, when Give Kids a Smile was moved to campus and students saw approximately 60 patients. Since the student-led event began in 2014 in the college’s mobile dental unit, numbers have maintained this upward tick.
In addition to the 60 dental and dental hygiene student volunteers providing care, Give Kids a Smile was made possible with the help of faculty volunteers, pediatric dentistry residents and a handful of predental students.
There were a few second year-students who have been learning about applying sealants and screening patients in their pediatric dentistry course, says Halle, an ASDA senior adviser, who helped coordinate the event. “Immediately, they were putting it in to practice, and they would go to the residents who taught them when they had questions.”
Work began in fall 2016 to secure the event location and register it with the American Dental Association Foundation, which provided sealant material, gloves, bibs, fluoride varnish and children’s goodie bags. Donations weren’t limited to the national organization. Disposable mirrors and explorers came from the Department of Public Health Sciences, and supplies like suction tips and cotton rolls from clinical affairs. Pediatric dentistry allotted the clinic space, and residents provided etchant used to prep teeth for sealants.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better team,” Olokowere says. “Every single volunteer collectively made the event happen, and we couldn’t be more thankful.”