What are the characteristics of children who need dental care? Teeth that have never been cleaned, mouths full of cavities and decay, low self-esteem, tears from ongoing pain, severe infections and refusal to smile.
Vicki Craig sees all of these signs and more at Give Kids A Smile (GKAS) clinics. Twice a year she and other volunteer dental professionals lend their time and talents to providing free dental care to children whose families can't otherwise afford the care.
The Hazelwood resident has been volunteering with GKAS for five years. She has more than 20 years experience as a dental assistant and teaches dental assisting classes at in Hazelwood.
“What motivates me to continue year after year is my love for children and the dedication to the field of dentistry," Craig said.
At GKAS, Craig's duties include hygiene education, taking inventory, designating supplies and assisting her fellow volunteers.
Something to smile about
GKAS celebrated its 10the anniversar and its 20th consecutive free dental clinic at the end of October.
Craig said the clinics are a great way to show her Sanford Brown students what it’s like to be give back to the community. At GKAS clinics, dental professionals in training can assist dentists and help educate children on the proper way to care for their teeth.
"A big part of dentistry is educating the public," she said. "I want children to learn that going to the dentist can be fun and an important part of being healthy."
At each GKAS clinic, about 600 infants, toddlers and school-aged children are seen by dental professionals.
GKAS services include:
- professional cleanings
- fluoride treatments and sealants
- oral surgery
Children under four receive specialized age-appropriate care through the Tiny Smiles portion of the clinic.
Those who need extensive dental services that cannot be completed at the clinic also have something to smile about. These children can get the care they need at no cost through one of the many private dental offices enrolled in the GKAS Smile Factories program.
"Dental disease...an epidemic" for low-income families
To date, GKAS has provided 10,000 local children with $4.2 million in services with the help of more than 8,400 volunteers like Craig.
In a statement provided to Hazelwood Patch, GKAS founder Tom Flavin, DDS said:
“The services provided to visiting children are critical. Dental disease among kids from low-income families is an epidemic and, unfortunately, a distinct lack of access exists for these individuals.
We have alleviated pain, removed severely rotted teeth, filled cavities and re-established positive self-images for thousands and thousands of young St. Louisans; not to mention our success in educating children and families and getting them to adopt and maintain good, daily oral health habits.”
Founded in 2002, GKAS relies on volunteers, donations and financial assistance from local and national companies and organizations.
The St. Louis GKAS is assoctiated with the wider American Dental Association (ADA) program.
The St. Louis is the nation’s largest GKAS clinic program and is the only one held twice a year, something Craig said she's proud to be a part of.
"Empowering others to maintain good oral hygiene is two-fold; modeling and experience," she said. "By combining the two at Give Kids A Smile clinics, children can pass down this knowledge to their siblings, parents and even peers with the hope of raising a generation that will care for their teeth and in turn benefit the overall health of their bodies.”
If your child or a child you know is in need of dental care, there are upcoming GKAS dental clinics on Feb. 10 - 11, 2012 at St. Louis University.