For the past five years, a group
of about 6,000 Minnesota children — some new, some now familiar faces — benefit from their interactions with Give Kids a Smile volunteers in February. Whether the children receive their first dental exam or get a painful problem resolved,
the volunteers can bet that each child is better off for the experience.
Exhausted as they may be, the 2,000 volunteers across the state are better off, as well. And the benefit reaches throughout the dental profession.
“There is a very significant value
of putting on this program,” said Richard Diercks, MDA Executive Director. From
the perspective of the Association, Give Kids a Smile helps achieve goals of
raising public awareness about the importance of dental health, improving
influence with state legislators and serving the underprivileged.
But another benefit is just as
important: “One of the most tangible benefits is the good feeling it generates
in the dental offices that participate. It’s a very different, vibrant and
rewarding experience for the entire office,” said Diercks.
Here are some highlights of the
value the program brings:
Give Kids a Smile generates
extensive news coverage throughout the state. Last year, the MDA tracked news
coverage of the event in the following:
• 65 metro-area newspapers,
including the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.
• 11 metro-area broadcast outlets,
including KARE 11, WCCO-TV and radio, KSTP, and MPR.
• 108 outstate newspapers
• 8 outstate broadcast outlets,
including radio and TV stations in Duluth, Mankato, Rochester and Fergus Falls,
as well as statewide radio news services such as Minnesota News Network.
“It’s a rare opportunity where the
story is shaped by the media but in a completely positive way,” said MDA’s
longtime media consultant Lindsay Strand. “The extent of media coverage has
been extremely successful over time and extremely positive.”
She said one of the keys of this
success has been dentists’ commitment to work with their local media and to
welcome reporters to cover local Give Kids a Smile events, even though it is
often one of the dental offices’ busiest days of the year.
The media coverage not only
informs low-income families about the availability of free care through the
program, it also informs the public about the importance of dental health and
the generosity of the dental community.
“It helps the public to see the
caring and warmth that dentists have for all patients,” said Strand.
The MDA enhances the unpaid media
coverage with advertising, paid for by generous sponsors. Ads appear on
WCCO-TV, which produces the commercials at no cost, as well as strategically
selected radio stations throughout the state.
a charitable outreach program, Give Kids a Smile has gained the dental
professional greater credibility with legislators.
“I think legislators are very
aware of the Give Kids a Smile program,” said Diercks. “It’s a visible
demonstration to them of how dentists are willing to give back to the community.
Without that, it’s very easy for them to be unaware of how much dentists do
within their communities.”
While promoting dental issues in
St. Paul, Diercks said, he has heard Give Kids a Smile referenced in committee
meetings and other gatherings as an example of how to address needs of the
“In a general way, it has created
a more positive and receptive environment at the capitol,” said Diercks.
“Legislators are more receptive to listening to our message.”
At Schulz Family Dental in Burnsville, patients can
read mounted newspaper articles and photos about the clinic’s participation in
Give Kids a Smile. It makes the staff feel good, said Valerie Lyman, lead
dental assistant and coordinator of the office’s Give Kids a Smile event.
Although their events usually
involve treating three times the normal volume of patients - 22 children in a
four-hour period - it leaves the staff feeling that they are part of an
“It’s just good,” she said. “You
know the kids are taken care of.”
The team at Grand Rapids Dental
Care ends their annual Give Kids a Smile event with a celebration.
“It’s a good feeling you get,”
said Mike Hagley, DDS. “They are all kids and because they are kids you just
want to help them. You can’t help but want to make them better. That’s the easy
He and his staff usually treat 18
children. And anything they can’t do during the one-day event gets taken care
of - at no charge - during future office visits.
“We work really hard and get a lot
done,” said Hagley. “At the end of the day, we have a little celebration.”
Their celebration, fueled by lots
of treats brought in by staff members, families of patients and even regular
patients, is replicated throughout the state as team in about 200 dental offices take a moment to relish in the remarkable service they just