Eight-year-old Alexandra “Allie” Robinson loves going to the dentist. Not only that, she knows how important is.
“You have to have healthy teeth,” she explained. “I have class pictures coming up, and I have to have a good smile.”
Allie does have a great smile. She shows it while she chats with Eric Van Zytveld, DDS, a 1973 alumnus of the School of Dental Medicine and Katelyn McClure, a fourth-year dental student graduating in May. Van Zytveld gets laughs from Allie with jokes about elephants. McClure gets even more laughs while she cleans Allie’s teeth. The instruments tickle Allie, who also thinks the red solution applied to her teeth to show areas with plaque looks hilarious.
Big smiles from children are all part of the Colorado Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile event (GKAS), hosted at the School of Dental Medicine (SDM) on the Anschutz Medical Campus on Feb. 5. GKAS offers children 17 and younger from low-income families the opportunity to receive free dental care.
From veterans to children
Seeing children fill the chairs in the SDM for a day is a change for GKAS Director Heidi Tyrrell, who runs the school’s Heroes Clinic, which serves more than 2,600 full-time veteran students from the University of Colorado.
Tyrrell staffs the event entirely with volunteers, including local dentists, hygienists, and SDM faculty and students. Throughout the day volunteers perform cleanings and fluoride treatments, and apply fillings, sealants, stainless steel crowns—whatever the children need.
“It’s a great day to do things for the community—particularly for kids who are uninsured or underinsured,” Tyrrell said. “This is one way we nurture that philanthropic spirit in our students.”
Senior students are able to work directly with patients under the supervision of faculty. Beginning students can still help out through skits, demonstrations and other activities to entertain kids in the waiting room. Some even dress as the tooth fairy and had out gifts to patients after their exams.
“Dentistry can produce anxiety in even the most rational person,” Tyrrell said. “But if we can create a happy, fun environment, that sets the tone for a lifetime.”
Volunteers give back and educate
That opportunity to educate and give back is what has made Van Zyteveld to volunteer for GKAS for more than 10 years.
“To me this is a big part of my practice giving back and helping those populations who are underserved and can’t get care,” Van Zytveld said. “It’s always touching to see kids who oftentimes haven’t had good experiences with dentists.”
McClure uses the event as an opportunity to not only work with kids but also to educate their parents on how to help prevent dental problems from occurring. Some of these preventative measures include the basics such as proper brushing and flossing techniques, as well as education on proper nutrition and dietary habits—all of which can affect oral health over time.
“Having a preventative plan is what we strive for,” McClure said. “We fix their teeth, but if there is a problem, we are really focused on preventative measures.
A welcoming environment
Allie and her brother, Patrick, were brought by their mother, Amanda, after she heard about the service offered by GKAS. Amanda also thought that GKAS might be a bit better for 4-year-old Patrick, who did not share his sister’s enthusiasm for trips to the dentist.
“Everyone has been really nice and welcoming,” Amanda said. “Patrick is very nervous, so I am glad for it. A regular doctor might have been terrifying for him. I think he’s going to have a good experience with it.”
Amanda was right. At the end of their cleaning, Allie still wore a big smile, and Patrick was far more at ease. When asked what she thought of her visit, Allie offered one word: “Awesome!”