It was 20 years ago when a group of dentists gathered in a downtown St. Louis building — one that had been condemned and was ready to be demolished within the following month.
“Boy, don’t we remember that first venue?” said Jeffrey Dalin, D.D.S., Give Kids A Smile St. Louis co-founder. “But we delivered full-service dental care to 325 children.”
It was a story of the first two-day GKAS clinic that ultimately expanded nationally, thanks to the American Dental Association. Dr. Dalin shared that story during the Feb. 4 virtual 2021 GKAS National Kickoff event — a small reminder of how far the program has come, helping more than 6 million underserved kids nationally receive free dental services since 2003.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the GKAS kickoff event, typically a large, in-person affair that includes volunteers providing free dental care to hundreds of children, looked a little different. Nonetheless, the 30-minute virtual event highlighted the program’s mission and importance.
Theremarks of leaders, sponsors and volunteers stressed one certain fact: in light of the pandemic, Give Kids A Smile is needed more than ever this year.
In 2021, nearly 1,000 programs, comprised of over 8,100 dentists and approximately 17,000 volunteers, have signed up to provide oral health services to nearly 300,000 children. These programs will be held this year with enhanced safety and infections control protocols in place.
“With the impact of the current pandemic, the need has never been greater,” said ADA President Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D.
To help ensure programs are safe and effective, the ADA has been able to provide program coordinators with planning resources,webinars, toolkits and donated personal protective equipment it acquired from the national stockpile after meeting with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Task Force for COVID-19 response in 2020.
With the support of GKAS national sponsors, Colgate-Palmolive and Henry Schein, Inc., along with the supportof Henry Schein’s supplier partners, the ADA’s GKAS program will once again provide treatment and education product kits for local volunteers to use at their events.
“This year’s program is also the first step in helping families find a dental home where they can receive ongoing care,” Dr. Klemmedson said. “Indeed, it’s something to smile about even in this challenging time.”
Among those participating this year, the Indian Health Service will collaborate with the ADA for the second year to hold events at its clinics across the U.S. Last year, IHS held 113 events across 27 states, providing nearly $700,000 worth of dental services to over 14,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children.
“We want to continue to show the public that our Indian Health Service and providers are committed to providing high quality dental care to American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Rear Adm. Timothy Ricks, D.M.D., chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service and assistant surgeon general. “We want to continue to raise awareness of the tremendous successes in reducing dental caries in American Indianand Alaska Native children and youth, but also continue to highlight the large disparities in dental disease in this population.
As an example of how some states' GKAS programs are responding to the pandemic, in 2021, the New JerseyDental Association is extending its program throughout the entire month of February, hosting events organized by 1,500 volunteers in over 100 locations comprised of private practices, hospital residency programs, the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine and dental hygiene schools.
“We are very proud of our volunteer members as they include students from the dental school and from hygiene schools, as well as our pre-dental students as they share in the delivery of passionate care to our most vulnerable,” said Cavan M. Brunsden, D.M.D., statewide chair of New Jersey Dental Association GKAS.
In Ohio, more than 400 dentists have participated annually in GKAS events throughout the state to date.
“In 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are still doing online education,” said David Kimberly, D.D.S., Ohio Dental Association president. “So Give Kids A Smile events may look different this year.”
Dr. Kimberly said that some Ohio events will feature dentists and their teams providing oral health instruction by video conferencing, reminding kids how to brush and floss properly and to eat healthy foods.
“Other direct health care events may be postponed until later in the year as we hopefully get back to more normal school routines this spring and fall,” he added.
The care provided at the Give Kids A Smile events throughout the country would not be possible without its national sponsors, Henry Schein, Inc. and Colgate-Palmolive.
“Our partnership with Give Kids A Smile provides great synergy with our own Bright Smiles Bright Futures program, which has reached over 1.3 billion children globally,” said Barbara Shearer, Ph.D., director of scientific affairs at Colgate-Palmolive Company and chair of the GKAS National Advisory Committee. “We have recently developed a new goal to reach2 billion children by 2025, and our partnership with Give Kids A Smile will help us achieve this goal. This relationship between the ADA and Colgate is a great example of the power of partnership; however, none of this could be achieved without the volunteer dentists and dental teams. We are so inspired by their willingness to continue to volunteer and help their communities in these unprecedented times.”
AJ Caffentzis, Henry Schein, Inc. president, U.S. dental distribution, echoed Dr. Shearer’s sentiments on volunteers who make Give Kids A Smile possible.
“We are proud to support the thousands of dental professionals who volunteer their time and provide much needed care to underserved children,” Mr. Caffentzis said during the virtual kickoff event. “Good oral health is a key component to overall health. All children, regardless of their circumstances, deserve access to quality dental care and oral health education, and it’s needed now more than ever in light of the pandemic.”
Although GKAS will be celebrated nationally in February during National Children’s Dental Health Month, events take place throughout the year, such as GKAS back-to-school events held in August.
To view a recording of the kick-off event and for more information about GKAS go to ADA.org/gkas.