Marim Kamel, a fourth-year dental student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, vividly remembers a woman from her childhood, who came to her church to teach the children about oral health and how to brush their teeth.
As Kamel waited early Thursday morning to take part in the UTHSC College of Dentistry’s Give Kids a Smile Day, she said she was excited to be able to participate in doing the same thing for dozens of Memphis children.
“I always remember her,” Kamel said, adding that she still brushes her teeth the way the woman taught her. “It feels good to help them and teach them.”
For roughly a decade, the College of Dentistry has held its Give Kids a Smile Day annually, providing free dental services to school children in Memphis, as part of its community outreach. Give Kids a Smile Day was initiated in 2003 by the American Dental Association to provide free dental services to children who need them through the assistance of volunteers.
This year, approximately 82 high school and middle school students from Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis received 965 dental procedures worth $29,365 provided primarily by fourth-year and some third-year dental students, along with dental hygiene students. The services, performed under the supervision of faculty, included examinations, cleanings, fillings, extractions, and fluoride applications.
“I enjoy helping kids,” said third-year dental student Matthew Cornett, as the high school students began to come into the large clinic on the fourth floor of the Dunn Dental Building. “It makes a big difference when you can change their smile and make it easier for them, with all the social pressures they face today.”
Fellow dental student Hope Gurley said the day also encourages the young students to come back to the dentist in the future.
“Everyone who enters the health professions does so because they care about people and they want to serve,” said Cassandra Christiansen, RDH, MPA, EdD, associate professor and director of School-Based Programs and Community Outreach for the College of Dentistry. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to serve.”
The event also allows dental students the opportunity to interact with patients and to build clinical and interpersonal skills for their future careers.
Zachary Larson, a fourth-year dental student, participated in the event for the first time last year. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It seems really helpful and it’s a great way to get the requirements (for graduation.)”
Clarice Law Eyre, DMD, MS, a professor and chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health, said Give Kids a Smile Day is a perfect example of “the message we want to teach” to future dentists. While the day is about fixing dental issues presented by the schoolchildren, it is also about teaching them the value of dental care early.
“The role of dentists is not just to fix the problems already there, but the way we see the role of a dentist is to help families make the kinds of choices that reduce the risk of cavities,” she said.
First-year dental hygiene student Courtney Carlson stood near the waiting area welcoming the middle school and high school students when they arrived on campus. As the Tooth Fairy, she was dressed in a pink tutu and crown made of silver toothbrushes. “I love dressing up, it makes me happy,” said Carlson, who has experience playing Rapunzel and other Disney-style princesses for children’s birthday parties. “I’m just excited to be able to help the kids.”