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Give Kids a Smile

Give kids a smile

Dentists are always careful to avoid hitting a nerve when providing care, but Jeffrey Dalin and B. Ray Storm hit a big nerve in 2002 — and thousands of kids across the country have benefited from the impact of their brainchild.

It's called "Give Kids a Smile (GKAS)," an annual one-day free clinic that Dalin, a 1980 graduate of the IU School of Dentistry at IUPUI, and Storm launched in St. Louis. In just eight years, a local idea has blossomed into a national movement that is making a difference in the lives — and smiles — of thousands of children who have little or no access to quality oral health care.

Dalin and Storm may not have realized how quickly or far their good idea would spread. By February 2003, just a year later, the program went coast-to-coast, aided by support from the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA adopted the concept as National Children's Access Day, and the program continues to roll. This year alone, more than 1,700 GKAS programs were held, serving nearly a half million kids. More than 45,700 volunteers took part in the effort, including 12,500 dentists.

Kids who visit a GKAS clinic get oral examinations and screenings, thorough cleaning and fluoride treatments, radiographs and oral hygiene instructions. When time allows and circumstances dictate, many sites offer fillings and extractions.

This winter at Dalin's IUPUI-based alma mater, for example, approximately 100 children participated, getting free cleanings and full restorative care. The spirit of Dalin's project has inspired School of Dentistry students to launch the Kids Club, which meets regularly to discuss children and their treatments, and build relationships with community organizations to provide dental education to youngsters.

During a typical GKAS event, the Kids Club volunteers offer tooth-brushing lessons, offer translating services chair-side for families who speak Spanish or Vietnamese and run an information booth for older kids and parents.

The ADA encourages GKAS treatment sites to expand their programs beyond the first Friday of each February, and thanks to a grant the IU dental school has received from the National Children's Oral Health Foundation, youngsters whose dental problems were too extensive to be handled in February will receive the additional care they need.