Giving children the gift of dental care should leave you with a warm feeling in your heart — not a throbbing vein in your head. Yes, we all know that even care given in the
name of charity can be frustrating. But after seven years of collectively providing free care to tens of thousands of children across the state, Give Kids a Smile participants have developed some creative approaches to put true joy and satisfaction into charity care.
Give Kids a Smile is a successful program in which 2,500 dental professionals volunteer at more than 200 Minnesota dental offices to provide free care to low-income children.
Clinics usually host their events on the first Friday or Saturday of February.
“I am so proud of what organized dentistry has accomplished with this program,” said Dan Ross, D.D.S., a volunteer from Norwood Young America. “Donation of one’s special abilities and skills for reasons other than monetary gain evokes far more satisfaction than one could ever hope for in a standard day’s work. And the parents of these children show gratitude beyond measure. Many of them express their thanks while choking back tears.”
Dr. Ross admits, though, he couldn’t run his event in a “business as usual” mode. He wanted to provide as much care for each kid as possible in one day. So, like many other
clinics, he changed his approach.
The Community Service Committee has gleaned ideas from Dr. Ross and others who have found new ways to deliver the greatest amount of services to low-income children, with the least amount of stress. It should be noted: Even months after their Give Kids a Smile programs, staff at these clinics easily tear up, just thinking back on the hands
they held and hugs they received. Do they find joy in this charitable program? Most definitely, yes!
The ideas listed below are intended to provide clinics with inspiration and practical suggestions. However, the most important message is this: If the way your clinic
currently does Give Kids a Smile isn’t satisfying, change it. Get creative.
Medical Arts Dental
Volunteer team: Julie Ann Nyland and Jennifer Dechaine, both D.D.S.; Nadine Jasberg, R.D.H.; Dee Dee Friesz, Carrie Byers, Ashly Wondra, Jenny Ashwill, all R.D.A.; Jordan Hirdler, dental assisting student; and Maria Sizer and Paula Smith, administration.
Stats: $9,000 in care to 26 kids
Years with Give Kids a Smile: 2
Frustration: Too little time for treatment
To maximize “doctor time” for each patient, Medical Arts Dental in Sartell used a prescreening process in the weeks before its Give Kids a Smile day. With no exams on the day of the event, the team was able to provide root canals, extractions, and extensive restorative work, as well as smaller fillings and sealants.
Here’s how it worked: The clinic was on the United Way 2-1-1 referral list (a service coordinated by the MDA). When parents called to make an appointment for a child
for Give Kids a Smile, the clinic scheduled the child to come in for a 20-minute prescreening appointment. These prescreening exams were scheduled within a regular day at the clinic. Typically, a few kids would come in each day to meet with a hygienist or dental assistant, depending on who was available, and receive radiographs. Then a dentist would break away from treatment to do a thorough exam on each child.
“That way we could determine their treatment needs and prioritize them. We discussed their needs with the parent and sent them home with a treatment plan. We told the parents to reserve time for an appointment on our Give Kids a Smile day,” said Jennifer Dechaine. “Pre-screening also allowed us to prioritize and determine children who had
the most urgent treatment needs — so we could be sure to schedule them first.”
Each child received a prophy and fluoride treatment. Then the team went through treatment plans, prioritized, and scheduled time with the doctors for treatment.
“The best part is we have no exams on GKAS day. We can just do the dentistry and help a lot of kids. It works great! We look forward to hosting Give Kids a Smile for
many years to come.”
P.S. Quiznos and Subway in Sartell donated subs, and Perkins donated muffins, for all of the clinic’s volunteers.
Completing Complex Cases
Norwood Dental Associates
Norwood Young America
Volunteer team: Oral surgeons Rick Diehl and Dan Sampson of OMS in Waconia; endodontist Rob Kaufmann of Metropolitan Endodontics in Eden Prairie; general dentists Al Hatcher of Hopkins, together with Brandon Bussler and Dan Ross of Norwood Dental. The Norwood Dental team members, including Susan Undis and Amy Bartels, both R.D.H.; Charlene Bartels, Karrie West, and Barbara Simons, all R.D.A.; and Janeen Lucker and Debra Prchal, both administrative staff. OMS team members: Becca Popp and Ashley Eiden, both R.D.A. Metropolitan Endodontics team members: Erzsi Nemeth and Sarah Lerum, both R.D.A. Sue Moerer, R.D.A., of Plymouth, assisted with patient care as well. Language translation skills were provided by Claire Undis and Angela Lenzen.
Stats: $20,000 in care to 33 kids
Years with Give Kids a Smile: 2
Frustration: No specialists on hand to complete complex treatments
Solution: Invite area specialists to join their team for the day
The team at Norwood Dental wanted to expand upon the idea of providing only general dental services. The goal was to make specialty services available to ensure more complex treatments could also be provided. The clinic reached out to local dental
specialists and found that many were willing to help. Two oral surgeons and an endodontist, together with their staffs, pitched in and treated children alongside the Norwood Dental team.
They took care of complicated extractions and root canals, along with other treatments.
It was really as simple as asking, said Dan Ross. He made some calls, the specialists
said “yes”, and the staffs helped put all the details together. The result was extensive
care provided to a lot of grateful kids.
P.S. One of the clinic’s translators, Marisol Rodriguez, dressed as a clown and sang and entertained the children.
Finding Local Families
Volunteer team: Greg Koch, Greg Harvey, and Debra Wynia, all D.D.S.; Whitney Radden, Amy Zahn, Eleanore Foster, and Cassandra Feldman, all R.D.H.; Heather Ebert,
Jane Saari, and Susie Troswick, all RDA; Kathi Henry and Toni Haas, both front desk personnel; and Madie Troswick, Taylor Ebert, and Katrina Zerwas, all high school volunteers and kids of team members.
Stats: $7,500 in care to 36 kids
Years with Give Kids a Smile: 3
Frustration: Too few families from within community knew about program
Solution: Direct outreach to elementary schools, ECFE, and food shelves
G2 Dental of Forest Lake elected not to list its name with the United Way 2-1-1 referral service, which makes families across the state aware of which dental offices are taking
appointments for Give Kids a Smile. Instead, the team made a special effort to reach out to local families in need. “The United Way is, and was, a wonderful way to get involved when we first decided to open our own office doors to help,” said Debra Wynia, D.D.S. “We were also informed that if our own efforts didn’t fill our books, we could always contact the MDA and be added to the United Way list closer to the event.”
The dental clinic submitted an article to the local newspaper. Staff also called the local elementary schools, as well as the Early Childhood and Family Education programs, the Lakes International Language Academy, and churches that offer day care to pre-schoolers. Additionally, the clinic made information available to the local food shelves.
G2 Dental was able to fill its appointment schedule with local children. The clinic advertised that it would provide preventive treatment. But, as the day unfolded, the team also provided limited restorative and especially emergency treatment.
Wynia said: “Why do we participate? My response has to be ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ It’s great from the treatment side to volunteer your time and talent to improve someone’s life. It’s the reason we become professionals in the health field in the first place. The day makes you smile. From the patient side, we can make these first dental visits a good experience instead of a scary one. And we can get kids seen without worrying parents about the financial responsibilities.”
Identifying Greatest Need
Cedar Hills Dental Center
Volunteer team: William Wagnild, D.D.S.; Carol Akers, D.M.D.; Stacy Turk, R.D.H.; Nancy Strating and Katie Huberty, both RDA; JoAn Brown and Trish Davis, both receptionists; Elizabeth Haagenson, college student (pre-dental); and Grace Wagnild, office manager.
Stats: $9,000 in care to 19 kids
Years with Give Kids a Smile: 4
Frustration: Uncertain they were reaching kids truly in need
Solution: Work directly with school nurses
To identify patients for Give Kids a Smile, Cedar Hills Dental Center works solely with school nurses. “They are aware of students with dental concerns or problems,” said
Grace Wagnild, office manager. “They are also able to reach or refer families that would benefit from free dental care. We do not limit who can receive treatment. Any child registered in our school district is open to participate with us.”
In January, the clinic emails permission forms and medical and dental history forms to the nurses. The nurses pass them along to the parents. If the parent accompanies the
student, he or she will bring the forms along. If the parent accompanies the student, he or she will bring the forms along. If the parent is unable or unwilling to accompany the student, the nurses bring the students and forms to our office. Wagnild explans.
If a student happens to be 18 years old, the nurses will allow the student to fill out the forms. “We schedule all the patients to receive as much treatment as time will allow,” said Wagnild. “We try to provide exams, hygiene, X-rays, fluoride, sealants, and oral hygiene instructions to every student if possible.
When time is limited, we prioritize care. If possible, Drs. Wagnild and Akers will do
hygiene while they wait for any anesthesia on students requiring operative, endodontic,
or oral surgery. We cross-schedule whenever possible, trying to allow for possible operative treatment, when the nurse is unaware of dental needs.”
For the 2009 event, the clinic added a college student to the volunteer team. The student, who works part-time with the clinic in the summer, met with patients to review oral hygiene skills and watch an instructional video. “We were surprised some of the students had never seen floss before,” said Wagnild.
The clinic treated a foster family of eight children, two brothers who live in a homeless
shelter, and others who had not received adequate dental care. Two local oral surgeons,
Drs. James Block and Douglas Carter, took referrals to complete extractions.
“The best part of the last Give Kids a Smile Day was the hug and smile we received
from the 15-year-old homeless student,” said Wagnild. “He had been punched, fracturing his central incisor. He was very scared of any dental procedure, and when he finally allowed Dr. Wagnild to restore his tooth, he was unable to stop smiling. The hug
he gave Dr. Wagnild was the reward for a very busy day.”
Creating Alternative Scheduling
Volunteer team: Peter Paulson, D.D.S.; Casey Knutson, Stephanie Olson, Mary Birmingham, all R.D.H.; and Megan Underhill and Pam Mueller, both RDA.
Stats: $7,000 in care to 22 kids
Years with Give Kids a Smile: 1
Frustration: Unsure of how many patients to expect
Solution: First come/first served scheduling procedure
While planning for their inaugural Give Kids a Smile event, team members at Midwest Dental in Zumbrota weren’t sure how many children to expect, but they knew a first come/first served scheduling procedure would give them the flexibility to respond to any number.
“We had a sign-in sheet for patients to sign as they arrived,” explained Mary Birmingham, R.D.H., who coordinated the clinic’s program. “After signing in, parents
or guardians were given the necessary forms to complete for each patient. Once the forms were returned, we saw each patient in the order signed in.”
Birmingham said that each of the clinic’s four operatories was used for cleanings, X-rays, fluoride treatments, exams, and sealants. As exams were completed and treatments were recommended, the dentist and one assistant began providing
“We were not able to complete the restorative treatment for each patient, but did complete all treatment that was necessary for pain management and provided the
parents/guardians with our treatment recommendations,” she said. Some patients had to wait, she added, but no one complained.
“We feel our initial Give Kids a Smile day was a great success and look forward to participating in this program again next year,” said Birmingham. “We will plan to do so with the same first come/first serve scheduling approach.”