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VCU School of Dentistry brightens kids’ smiles at annual oral health event

Give Kids a Smile is a national movement encouraging providers to offer a free day of dental care to underinsured families.

Young girl smiling in a dentist chair with sunglasses on. It was all smiles during the Give Kids a Smile event. VCU students provided services such as cleanings and applying sealants to children. (VCU School of Dentistry)

By John Wallace and Vernon Freeman

Nearly 100 children from Richmond and surrounding communities smiled a little brighter thanks to Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry’s annual Give Kids a Smile event on Friday, February 17, 2023.

Give Kids a Smile is a national movement started by the American Dental Association encouraging oral health care providers to offer a day of free dental care to underinsured families in celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month in February. This year, the Pediatric Dental Clinic at VCU School of Dentistry provided care valued at more than $50,000 to 98 children.

“We want our children, especially our school-age kids, to be able to go to school and thrive and pay attention in class. We know that kids with dental decay might miss a lot of school,” said Paula Coates, D.D.S., M.S., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at VCU School of Dentistry. “Cavities are the number one issue we see, which is why preventive care is so important.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease affecting school-age children. Poor oral health disproportionately affects children from lower-income families, who tend to miss more school and receive lower grades than healthier peers.

“I think the most important thing is educating the kids as well as the parents,” said Ji Yon Kim, a first-year dental student and one of the event coordinators for her class. “Our focus here today is to teach them how to brush and floss, stay away from sugary drinks before bed and to tell them that it’s necessary to come in for a checkup once in a while and to not wait until they feel pain.”

More than 90 students from the school volunteered at the event. Many of the first-and second-year dental students worked to educate participants through games and activities, while junior and senior dental students provided care in the clinic alongside residents and faculty members. Services provided included cleanings, applying sealants, placing crowns, and, when necessary, extracting teeth.

“As a pediatric dentist, I encourage all parents to find a dental home by the time their child turns one,” said Coates.

Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney also dropped by the event to show his support for oral health as an important component of overall health. He toured the clinic, spoke to families and spent time with students to learn about what got them interested in dentistry.

Mayor Levar Stoney stands in the middle of a large group of VCU dentistry students holding a dinosaur toy and brushing its teeth.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney stopped by the event to learn more about oral health and the interests of VCU School of Dentistry students. (VCU School of Dentistry)