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College of Dentistry’s 2024 Give Kids a Smile Day Provides $18,965 Worth of Free Dental Services

The College of Dentistry held its annual Give Kids a Smile Day on Monday, providing free dental services to school children from Memphis’ Freedom Preparatory Academy.

Erica Mathis, a fourth-year student in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry, has been inspired to become a dentist since she was 5 years old, after seeing the work of her father, who is also a dentist. She was one of many dental students providing free dental services to children during the college’s annual Give Kids a Smile Day on Monday.

“It’s just a joy to be able to see kids, hang out with them, and do some treatment for them,” Mathis said during the morning-long event at the UT Health Science Center’s Memphis Campus. “I love kids. I like to talk to them and make them feel comfortable, so that’s the main reason I’m here today.”

For a decade, the College of Dentistry has held its annual Give Kids a Smile Day, an event providing free dental services to school children from Memphis’ Freedom Preparatory Academy. The American Dental Association initiated Give Kids a Smile Day in 2003 to provide free oral health care to children through the assistance of volunteers.

Approximately 91 school children from Freedom Preparatory Academy received dental procedures worth $18,965. Third- and fourth-year dental students and dental hygiene students performed the procedures under the supervision of faculty. The procedures included examinations, cleanings, fillings, extractions, and fluoride applications.

“I actually went to that high school (Freedom Prep) during the screening day for them and I met many kids,” said Hayden Rash, third-year dental student and president of the dentistry class of 2025. “The one I have today, I met and talked with. It’s cool to see them in their school and then to be able to come here and you’re able to help them after meeting them – and do it for free.”

This is the second year the event expanded to include high school students (pictured above).

“Freedom Prep is amazing to partner with. We went and screened all these children in November of last year,” said Cassandra Christiansen, RDH, MPA, EdD, associate professor and director of School-Based Programs and Community Outreach for the College of Dentistry. “Our students go out with us, and we screen all the kids and make arrangements to get them here. So, they are just amazing to work with. Many of the schools aren’t able to transport the children, and they are committed enough that they transport the kids here and work with us in getting the dentistry done. The dental students get the opportunity to see children and adolescents. And the other thing we are trying to instill in them is to give back. We want them after they graduate to remember these kinds of events and participate in whatever communities that they are a part of to give back.”

The event included middle school students (pictured above) and high school students from Flagship Jonetta Middle School and Brownlee Middle and High School campuses of Freedom Preparatory Academy.

Megan Stitzinger, chief of staff at Freedom Preparatory Academy, said the academy is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the college again this year.

“We understand how important dental care is to preventing dental disease and other health issues that impact a student’s ability to grow and thrive,” Stitzinger said. “This partnership helps ensure that our students are able to not only have a healthy smile, but that they’re healthy and ready to learn as they prepare to excel in college and in life.”

“It can be fun and rewarding, and kind of a challenge because of the time. This is once a year and we have two hours to do as much as we can possibly do,” William R. Callahan III, DDS, associate professor and vice chair, group leader in the Department of General Dentistry, said as they were preparing their station in the clinic before students arrived. “It would be nice to expand this, because there are other areas where they don’t have any access, so this would be wonderful if we can make it bigger going forward and identify those areas.”

James Ragain, DDS, dean of the College of Dentistry, hopes the event will inspire middle and high school students to pursue dentistry. “Hopefully we can generate some interest and grow a few dentists and dental hygienists out of it. But this is such a great opportunity to give back to the oral health care in our community, and it’s very inspirational.”

“This is a great event for the students to get a chance to interact with the community, and the patients to get a chance to maybe find a dental home that they might not have,” said Joseph Parkinson, DDS, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of General Dentistry. “We already have patients that are asking to come back to get their permanent care here. I think it’s a good win for everybody, for the patients and for the students. I look forward to it every year.”

The event provides dental students the opportunity to serve in the community.