Row upon row of young children file off buses and into the School of Dentistry on the campus of the University of Mississippi Medical Center early Friday morning.
It’s all hands on deck as everyone from administrative staff and faculty to students and researchers work together to serve the biggest influx of patients, in a four-hour period, that the dental clinics will see all year: Give Kids A Smile.
Before noon, over 700 students from Johnson, Galloway and Dawson elementary schools will have received a free dental exam and cleaning, instruction on brushing and flossing, sealants on permanent molars, and a referral, if needed.
“Give Kids A Smile is a wonderful project that the School of Dentistry is proud to participate in annually,” said Dr. David Felton, dean of the school. “It is our time to give back to the community, and to provide much-needed care to children in Mississippi. We are delighted to have the opportunity to participate once again in this most worthy project.”
The American Dental Association began the national Give Kids A Smile program in 2003 as a way for dentists to join with the community to provide dental services to underserved children. UMMC’s School of Dentistry has been taking part since the beginning.
“Preventive care is critical to maintaining good dental health and overall well-being, and we will continue to participate in efforts to help those who need it,” said Dr. William Duncan, interim chair of pediatric dentistry and community oral health. “Give Kids A Smile Day is a fun time for the School of Dentistry.”
Nearly one in four children ages 2-11 has untreated cavities in their baby teeth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Regular dental check-ups are critical to keep a child’s teeth and gums healthy. Left untreated, tooth decay can have devastating effects on young children and has been connected to more serious health concerns later in life, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia and diabetes. Early dental problems can affect a child’s learning, interaction with other children and ability to eat.
State Sen. Hillman Frazier is a familiar face at the school for this annual event.
“I look forward to coming here every year because it’s a very good learning experience,” said Frazier. “I have a chance to see the progress the School of Dentistry is making, to interact with the staff members and faculty and to see how they are training up young dental professionals.”
Frazier said that the preventive nature of the exams will help Mississippi’s children in their academic achievement as well.
“This is the first time some of these students have to receive dental care, and it’s very good to see them getting the care and attention,” Frazier said. “This is preventive. If dental problems go unattended, they miss days out of school and fall behind. It’s going to save the state money in the long run.”
Asia Rouser, a 5-year-old student in pre-kindergarten at Johnson Elementary, sat with her classmates Layla, Miley, London and Marquavius. They waited patiently for their turn to be seen.
Asia leaned back on the bench and laughed quietly to herself. When asked what is funny, she almost didn’t want to answer. With a little prodding, she spilled the beans.
“I was thinking I want to work here when I grow up. I want to be a dentist.”
Underneath the hustle and bustle of the morning, the faculty, students and staff at the School of Dentistry aren’t just providing much needed oral health care. They are inspiring the next generation of Mississippi dentists.
Give Kids A Smile is made possible by the support of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, Hinds Community College, Mississippi Dental Association and private dentists along with community and corporate partners including Henry Schein, Ultradent, Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, C-Spire, Johnson & Johnson Healthcare, Premier Dental, Whip Mix Corporation, Mississippi Department of Transportation, Brown Bottling Company, Owens and Minor, and many others.