For many uninsured families in Nevada, the costs of receiving dental treatments makes finding a dental home difficult, which, in turn, impedes the delivery of routine dental care. To address this health care challenge, UNLV School of Dental Medicine offers several community outreach initiatives and community outreach clinics designed to make available the oral health instruction, preventive treatments, and necessary care for those most in need. One of the school’s outreach clinics is the annual Give Kids a Smile event.
During Give Kids a Smile, which the school hosted Feb. 25, more than 200 dental students and residents, hygienists, faculty dentists, and staff members volunteered their skills and expertise to help uninsured children regain good oral health. Collectively, they provided 226 preventive and restorative treatments free of charge to more than 100 children aged 4 to 18. According to the American Dental Association’s national average for general practice fees, the value of delivered care exceeded $51,000.
“As the Give Kids a Smile coordinator since 2011, I have seen the event grow each year,” said Dr. Christina Demopoulos, professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Dental Medicine. She also recently received the 2023 Service-Learning Faculty Award Recipient from the UNLV office of government and community engagement.
“Since 2006, we have offered more than $1.1 million in donated services to approximately 2,400 children in Southern Nevada. Many of the families that register for this clinic do not have dental insurance or an established dental home. At times, they have to make the difficult choice of either putting food on the table, or paying for extensive dental treatments. Through Give Kids a Smile, we create a no-cost treatment option to help relieve that anxiety and enhance the overall health of their children.”
Community partners Liberty Dental Plan, Henry Schein, the College of Southern Nevada (CSN) Dental Hygiene Program, and the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services also attended and provided a variety of resources. CSN’s dental hygiene students offered oral health education and oral hygiene instruction to parents; Liberty Dental Plan staff members reinforced the oral hygiene instruction with parents and their children; and the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services completed Medicaid eligibility verification and identified available social support services.
Each of the participating children received an oral hygiene bag, an electric toothbrush donated by Proctor & Gamble, and a follow-up appointment at the dental school, which has hosted Give Kids a Smile since 2006 and become the dental home for dozens of the event’s patients.
“I found Give Kids a Smile to be an incredible experience that was not only fulfilling, but also eye opening,” said first-year hygiene student Brittany Hartog. “I felt like I made a genuine difference in the way a lot of those parents viewed the oral hygiene habits of their children and themselves. The experience I had makes me look forward to future community outreach programs that I plan to attend before and after I graduate.”
“I had an amazing and fulfilling experience volunteering during Give Kids a Smile,” said first-year dental student Serena Phen. “I got the opportunity to observe and learn about the different procedures these children may not have been able to receive. I loved how I got to work with the children since, as part of the UNLV curriculum, we teach oral health to elementary students every Thursday. Overall, I enjoyed spending my the day with my peers and faculty, giving back to the community and helping our future generation maintain good oral health.”