Via Unsplash.

Dental faculty and students volunteered for annual Give Kids a Smile Day on Oct. 10 at the SIU School of Dental Medicine campus in Alton, Illinois.

Katie Kosten, director of community dentistry, said that around 120 kids were treated by faculty and dental students over the course of the day. Kosten said that all services offered by the school were free of charge during this event. 

“We know there are a lot of children within the community that have difficulty accessing dental care,” Kosten said. “This day is a way to try and reach out to those who have been seeking dental care but have had a hard time finding it.”

Kosten said the School of Dental Medicine does everything from routine hygiene visits and cleanings to fillings, crowns and extractions. Kosten also said that all faculty and students present for Give Kids a Smile Day were volunteering on their own time.

Not all student volunteers worked directly with teeth, however. First-year dental students, such as Ben Herring, oversaw all kinds of activities in the gym adjacent to the treatment building. Herring said that, in addition to balloon animals and dinosaur tattoos, the first-year students were there to educate the kids on the importance of dental hygiene.

“[We want to] show them that it’s not so terrifying,” Herring said. 

Kosten also said that the school’s ultimate goal for today was for the kids to leave with better knowledge of how to take care of their teeth. 

“We certainly want to help children who have cavities and fix them. We don’t want kids in pain,” Kosten said. “But, even better, we want to try and prevent that from even happening in the first place.”

Kosten also said she hopes that those in need of a primary dentist might come back to SIU for their checkups. 

“A lot of patients don’t have anywhere to call home for their dentist,” Kosten said. 

Derek Forrester, director of clinic operations, said he is glad to see Give Kids a Smile Day return to its pre-pandemic state. Before the pandemic, Forrester said there was a gym filled with tables, booths and activities for the kids to participate in. However, because of the pandemic, this annual event had to drastically restructure. 

“We had to begin scheduling folks because we couldn’t afford to have 300 people in the same room all at one time,” Forrester said. “This is the first year we’re able to re-open the gym for the kids.”

Forrester said that despite the challenges the pandemic introduced, he was impressed by how flexible and adaptive the School of Dental Medicine was. According to Forrester, dental classes started back up just three months after the pandemic began. 

“I was really proud of everybody,” Forrester said. “We were only out for three months, and we were able to begin treating patients again on June 1.”

Herring said he wishes to open his own independent dental practice after his time in college, and that working with kids in events like Give Kids a Smile Day has helped shape his vision for his future practice. 

“I’m hoping to open my own practice one day,” Herring said. “I kind of like the idea of having fun stuff for kids.”

Herring said he was pleasantly surprised that many of the kids took the time to go to the informational booths on dental hygiene and healthy diets that were set up in the gym. Kosten also said that she hopes the children and parents both will be better able to take care of their teeth after this event.

“The number one driver of cavities in children is what they eat and drink,” Kosten said. “We want to do as much as we can to prevent cavities on the front end.”

For more information on the SIU School of Dental Medicine, visit its website.

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