Angel Finger walked up to the TV microphone Thursday in the middle of the largest dental clinic in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry and beamed her joy into the camera.
“The experience was very relaxing. My dentist assured me everything was going to be okay. She calmed me down when I was nervous about the work I was going to have done.”
Angel, 12, was one of 62 middle school students from Freedom Preparatory Academy who had cavities filled and other free care in Give Kids A Smile day on February 24.
Under the supervision of College of Dentistry faculty, 110 dental students performed 634 procedures, valued at $17,165.
This is the eighth year the college has put on the event, a favorite among dentistry students for several reasons. They get to work on patients whose young lives hold such promise. And they get a chance to model dentistry as a career choice.
“What we really want is for the children is No. 1, to gain an appreciation for the importance of good oral health,” said Dr. Orpheus Triplett, assistant dean of Community Oral Health and Outreach. “And No. 2, we want to expose them to the profession of dentistry. We do the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. If the children stay at the school, they have a chance to come back in seventh and eighth grade. We hope to have an impact on them such that we might find dentists-to-be here or some other type of health care provider.”
Across the clinic, which has more than 120 dental chairs, dental equipment was humming. But there were also lots of quiet conversations, laughter, even fist bumps as the youngsters connected with the dental students doing their work.
“I learned about myself today. I have six wisdom teeth. No wonder I am in the smart class,” said Leandrea Wilkins, 13, seeing her X-rayed teeth for the first time. “I have a tooth that is all the way down here somewhere, and it’s supposed to be all the way over here,” she said, her finger moving from her lower jaw to the back of her cheek.
“Six wisdom teeth is a little unusual,” said dentistry student Charlie Hughes. “Usually, you see people with four or two or none. Having extra is a little rare. You’re smarter, that’s all that means.”
Leandrea had no cavities. Hughes assisted in applying sealants to her teeth, but not before they discovered they were both the youngest children in their families and that they like to help others.
That’s when the fist bump happened.
“Thank you for your services,” Leandrea told her team, the first time going to the dentist has been part self-discovery.
Give Kids A Smile is a 20-year-old project of the American Dental Association, which has more than 1,000 similar events scheduled this year.
“We started it in 2012, because we think it’s a good opportunity to improve the oral health of the community,” said Liang Hong, DDS, MS, PhD and professor in the Department of Community Oral Health.
“But it also gets us engaged in the community. All of our students really like this program. We are thinking about doing it twice a year.”
That makes Marcos Villa, community outreach manager at Freedom Prep, smile even broader.
“The collaboration we have built with UTHSC is really wonderful. The kids and their families benefit, and it is also showing real possibilities for the future by helping the kids dream about different options.
“If you stop to watch the conversations happening with the students, you can see they help our students. They help UTHSC students too. It’s a perfect match.”