The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped a lot of progress along the way, but one thing it cannot deter is the determination of dentists to provide dental care!
The Give Kids A Smile®, (GKAS) program is held each February across the United States in celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month, and members of the DCDS Foundation were resolute that the event in Dallas should not be cancelled due to the pandemic. GKAS events are intended to be touch points for children who do not receive routine dental care. Since its beginning in 2003, more than 6 million children have been cared for by more than half a million volunteers.
Last February’s event in Dallas invited over a thousand students to receive free screenings, hygiene bags and oral health presentations from a volunteer army of 50 dentists and 100 other dental professionals. Immediately following the successful event, ideas were discussed for broadening the scope for 2021. And immediately following that discussion, pandemic reality set in; changing scope, but not changing purpose. The need for education of underserved children on prevention of dental disease continues, so the show must go on!
Rei Iwase, DDS, director for the DCDS Foundation and coordinator for the Dallas GKAS event realized quickly that in-person screenings were out of the question. Many of the after school programs that GKAS served in the past are closed due to the pandemic, and many Dallas Independent School District (DISD) students are still opting to learn from home rather than in the classroom. Enter Plan B for the February 5th event: virtual presentations and relying on teachers to distribute oral hygiene bags.
This plan abbreviated the need for volunteers, and ultimately 14 doctors and 14 Texas A&M University College of Dentistry (TAMUCOD) students were engaged to stage oral hygiene presentations via Zoom for DISD elementary school classrooms in low income areas.
In addition, the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department Out of School Time Programs requested a recorded oral hygiene video to several hundred students. With the help of hygienists Stephanie Eisenmann, RDH and Mayra Ruiz, RDH; as well as TAMUCOD student Ashly Okoli, Dr. Iwase recorded clips that present the proper way to brush and floss, good nutrition, what a trip to the dentists is like and dentistry as a career. DCDS Foundation staff assisted by pulling the clips into an engaging video that was shown in several recreation centers.
The fourth year dental students who participated were impressed with the activities. “Although it was hard to interact with students through Zoom, it was a nice reminder of how rewarding it can be to work with children and have an impact on their lives,” explained Andrew Ho. “Many children don’t have the knowledge or resources when it comes to knowing how to keep up with oral health. It’s important to try to help these children early on so that they can have success later on in life in keeping up with their oral hygiene. Helping these kids is a great step in setting a foundation for a healthier community.” Ashly Okoli was equally enthusiastic. “Working with Dr. Trieu was an amazing experience. She effortlessly engages the children and challenges them to think about their oral hygiene and dietary habits. The students were eager to participate and they came ready with a number of questions. I look forward to continuing outreach with children in our community, and I am enthusiastic about pursuing pediatric dentistry as it will give me the clinical skills to pour into children and enrich their lives.”
Approximately 760 students were served through this year’s GKAS activities in Dallas, with all of the children receiving a free toothbrush, toothpaste and oral health coloring sheets provided by the DCDS Foundation and the ADA’s GKAS program.
The DCDS Foundation invites you to click here to use the video in school Zoom presentations in your own neighborhood: https://youtu.be/Loni0lPmrHE.