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IUSD revamps its Give Kids a Smile program
“Give Kids a Smile” (GKAS) is a widely recognized national program that enables community members and dentists to offer free dental services to many underserved children. The program was adopted by the ADA in 2003, but it began from the efforts of two dentists, one of whom is alumnus of Indiana University School of Dentistry, Dr. Jeff Dalin (1980 Graduate).
In the past, Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) opened its doors for the annual Give Kids a Smile Day, typically held on the first Friday in February of every year. Melinda Meadows, Clinical Associate Professor of Periodontics and Allied Programs at IUSD, recalls those days with fondness.
“One of the things I liked the most about the GKAS days was the way that dentists from the community came and worked side by side with folks from the school with everyone’s focus being on the children and their needs.”
GKAS day was a very successful event delivering free treatment to some of the children of Indiana in the greatest need. Beginning in 2004, approximately 40 children, accompanied by their parents/guardians, received free treatment at the IUSD GKAS site, ranging from preventive services such as sealants and cleanings to restorative services such as amalgams and stainless steel crown. The number of children treated increased to 76 on the last held GKAS day at IUSD in 2009. Following these GKAS days, several of the children with extensive dental need were “adopted” by dentists who wanted to provide the remainder of the child’s treatment in their private practice.
“Many of our volunteer dentists, both pediatric and general or family dentists, commented on, and expressed frustration with, the limitation of opening our doors on just one day for these children who do not have any dental insurance but have great need for dental care,” comments Dr. Joan Kowolik, Director of Pre-doctoral Pediatric Dentistry at IUSD.
Accordingly, Dr. Judith Chin, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, added that a decision was made by key stakeholders to “change the IUSD GKAS program from a one day event to a year round event so that more comprehensive care could be offered to impoverished children.”
Since 2006, Dr. Kowolik and Dr. Chin have worked tirelessly to identify and pursue grants from agencies such as Delta Dental and the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation to supply impoverished children free comprehensive care treatment throughout the year at IUSD. These funds enabled some children from GKAS to complete their care at in the IUSD pediatric dentistry clinic. However, dentists across the state also wanted to be involved in Give Kids a Smile, so the program began to develop and change.
However, since 2003, IUSD 4th year students have been visiting Title One schools in Indiana as part of their assignment in the “Seal Indiana” program. Dr. Armando Soto, Director of Seal Indiana, reports that roughly 10% of the children screened are in need of immediate dental care and 40% of the children screened need some form of restorative treatment. He also stated that several of the children required the same restorative care year after year, even though the parents had been informed of the need for care after their first comprehensive dental exam through Seal Indiana.
Dr. Soto added that “only 60% of children examined received treatment as recommended.” Thus, a number of children are not receiving the care they need.
“There may be multiple reasons for this, to name a few, accessibility in the form of transportation, lack of dentists in the area, or lack of dentists accepting Medicaid,” says Dr. Soto. Recognizing this as an unacceptable situation, faculty from IUSD met with officers in the Indiana Dental Association (IDA) to discuss possible solutions. The new approach, described below, was suggested and has since been piloted for just over 1 year; it is proving very helpful for several children in the greatest need in one local township.
The newly revamped program has a year-round approach. Ms. Cassandra Riley, the Community Dental Assistant Program Coordinator of IUSD, sends a list of the children with untreated severe dental disease seen by faculty and student dentists in the “Seal Indiana” program to Professor Heather Taylor, Community Outreach Coordinator in the Pediatric Department. Professor Taylor contacts the parents, offering to try to find a dentist, local to the child’s school or home, who is willing to treat the child. The IDA then provides the names and contact information of local dentists who have volunteered their time and services to take on an extra child or two. Heather then closes the loop by giving the dentist’s information to the parent who makes the necessary contact and appointment.
“This program has its kinks to work out, but I see the success of it through the parents surprise when they are offered free services, thanks to the incredible generosity of Indiana dentists”, said Heather. Dr. Mike Princell of Indianapolis participated in the program this past year and donated over $2,300.00 in services to fix just one child’s mouth! The mother of this child was overwhelmed with thanks to this new version of the program and to Dr. Princell. She said, “My husband and I had both lost our jobs and were on the verge of losing our house when Heather contacted us. For some time, I have been hoping to have my son’s mouth treated but obviously could not afford it. Without this program, my son would have been in pain for longer and I’m not sure we would have been able to get all the work needed done so quickly. Dr. Princell’s office was amazing and so considerate to my situation. This program came to us at the exact right time. I now take my son and my other children to Dr. Princell’s office because he took such good care of my son who needed so much work. I would like to thank Dr. Princell and his staff for their work and I would like to thank everyone involved in this program. It has made such a difference in my son’s life and how he cares for his teeth.”
”It was a great joy and privilege to help Kim’s son achieve a healthy mouth, educate him on appropriate dental care, and witness his improvement. I have always enjoyed helping those in need, and will continue to do so through this new program,” commented Dr. Princell. So far, 19 children with severe decay were connected to local dentists in their area. Over $8000 dollars has been donated by dentists to treating these children thus far and the numbers are still growing.
Dr. Kowolik commented further, “This program involves many people who really care for the health of the children of Indiana. There are numerous reasons why children do not receive the necessary dental care but when we all work together, a solution can be found. This is one small way in which we can make an impact. I am very grateful to all involved especially the dentists who have made space in their busy practices to treat one child in need. Many of these children are treated pro bono and I know the parents are very appreciative of this help for their child. The more dentists who step up and volunteer their time the more children will be cared for with the least burden for each. Thank you all so much.”
Of course, the program needs tweaking. One issue Prof. Taylor is concerned with is the fact that SEAL Indiana sees children from all over the state. Yet the new version of the GKAS program has this year focused in only one area, Lawrence Township. She has arranged for children with severe decay in four schools from this township to find dental homes from local dentists. Recently the Plymouth area has also been involved in the pilot program. However, she knows that the IDA does not yet have the names of dentists from all over the state who have identified themselves as willing to treat a child or two for free from their local area. Prof. Taylor receives more and more names of children in other areas of Indiana where SEAL Indiana visits who are in desperate need of care. “For the first year of this new revamped program we only focused on one township close to Indianapolis. Now there is a need to spread our wings and incorporate other areas of the state to help more families who are struggling to get dental work done for their child. It is my hope that dentists across this state read this article and contact the IDA and notify them that they are willing to help if SEAL Indiana visits their area,” says Heather Taylor. “In the meantime, I would like to thank the dentists from Plymouth and from the Lawrence Township who have volunteered to help. Their exceptional generosity makes my job exciting. What I love about this version of the program is that not only does a child become dentally fit, they also find a dental home.”
SEAL Indiana may be headed to your area in the near future. If you are interested in participating in this new GKAS program, please contact Kari Alting of the IDA at (317) 634-2610 or Heather Taylor of IUSD at (317) 274-6846. Dentists in all areas are encouraged to contact us, but currently there is a special need for dentists to donate services to children from these areas of Indiana: Taylorsville, Brown County, Elnora, Warsaw, Veedersburg, Anderson, Vincennes, Marion County, Bloomington, and Crawfordsville.
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