Facing COVID-19, Give Kids a Smile gets creative

A winter tradition at the School of Dentistry, Give Kids a Smile brings student and faculty volunteers together to provide free oral health care to children in need throughout the community. The February event not only gives children much-needed treatment, but also connects families to a home for regular oral health care.

But, like so many other things, the pandemic forced a change of plans. Thankfully, however, the Give Kids a Smile organizers have been planning for this possibility since last fall.

“Due to COVID-19, we knew we would not be able to safely hold our traditional in-person on the first Saturday in February as treating that many patients at once would have compromised social distancing guidelines,” said Kalee Abu-Ghazaleh (Class of 2022), one of the student organizers. “Despite this, we knew we wanted the event to continue, so we made the decision very early to overhaul Give Kids a Smile at the University of Minnesota so that children in our community without access to dental insurance could still call us their home.”

Typically, nearly 150 to 200 children and families come to Moos Tower for care. Unable to provide face-to-face care in 2021, however, the committee embarked on an ambitious program of education, fundraising and outreach.

The committee are currently finalists for a $20,000 grant from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and several other grants are in the works. Additionally, an apparel sale raised $1,700 in the fall with another one planned for this spring.

Additionally, Give Kids a Smile stepped up with educational efforts through partnerships with Portico Healthcare and the Holland Center. Volunteers have held free monthly educational sessions for students, faculty and residents in partnership with the Holland Center, a health care centered focus on children with autism, to help dental professionals better treat children with special healthcare needs.

“We also hosted a Parent Panel with Holland Center families, so that parents could share their personal experiences and provide insight to dental professionals on how we can tailor the dental experience for each individual child,” Abu-Ghazaleh said. “These education sessions are free of charge and inter-professional involvement is highly encouraged. It’s our goal that sessions held in Spring 2021 will qualify for CE credit.”

A Give Kids a Smile website, providing oral health tips for parents of children, is also planned to launch this winter.

While an in-person Give Kids a Smile won’t happen in 2021, the volunteer event is in very good shape for the future. Children treated last year will still have their Dental Home Scholarships extended through February 2022. Abu-Ghazaleh also said scholarship spots for up to 100 more children will also be available.

Volunteers and those wanting more information on the education sessions can email gkas@umn.edu.

Give Kids a Smile
Give Kids a Smile