For many kids, a trip to the dentist is an exercise in apprehension and fear. Not so for a group of Boys & Girls Club members who had their teeth examined by CU School of Dental Medicine (SDM) students on a recent evening.
The children smiled, giggled and opened wide for the dozen dental medicine students who volunteered at the free screening at the Vickers Club at the Nancy P. Anschutz Center in northeast Denver. Students and residents from both the SDM and the Children’s Hospital Colorado Pediatric Dental Center provided the service, along with oral health education and entertainment. Several SDM professors also participated in the outreach program that served about 50 children over a few hours.
“I think it’s great for the School of Dental Medicine to be involved in the community and to stress the importance of good oral health,” said Assistant Professor Elizabeth Shick, DDS. “This partnership is a great way to reach children, especially if the children may not have access to a dentist.”
The volunteer screeners made care referrals if a child’s family didn’t have access to a primary dentist. Shick said clinical care, with flexible insurance acceptance, is available through both the SDM and Children’s Hospital Colorado Healthy Smiles Clinic. Also, the SDM regularly offers no-appointment-necessary free screenings to obtain patients for upcoming licensure exams for senior dental students.
Shick said mobile screenings, such as the visit to the Boys & Girls Club, are important because they reach kids in their community environs. “It’s great to have dental school students here because they get to learn a lot about community outreach,” she said. “We hope it’s something they continue in their careers.”
Third-year dental student Nikki Kumor couldn’t imagine a better way to spend her time. She loves kids and hopes to become an orthodontist specializing in adolescents. “This screening allows us to see a lot of patients and interact with a large group,” she said. “The kids are lots of fun.”
In dental school, students do a three-week pediatric rotation. Kumor’s rotation took place a year ago, so she jumped at the chance to examine children’s teeth.
“Kids don’t really know they have cavities; they don’t feel them or know what to look for. So here, it’s good to tell them,” Kumor said. “Also, this screening service is nice because we don’t often get to work with faculty members outside of school.”
Ken Durgans, Ed.D., Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, said the SDM, recognizing the importance of serving the surrounding community, is ramping up its outreach efforts. He said the SDM plans to add partnerships with other Boys & Girls Clubs in the Denver-Aurora area. Besides the screenings, the dental providers entertained the kids by dressing in tooth, toothpaste and tooth fairy costumes. They dispensed dental-care goodies as well as information about oral health preventative-care habits.
They also explained in an engaging way how the kids, if they so aspired, could someday become dentists.
“The kids see good oral-health habits from this fun, interactive perspective,” Durgans said. “The stars of the show are our (SDM) students and professors, because this is all after-hours and they don’t have to do this. They just want to help the community.”