Nearly 80 children from Richmond and surrounding communities smiled a little brighter thanks to VCU School of Dentistry’s annual Give Kids a Smile event on Friday, February 17, 2023.

Give Kids a Smile is a national movement started by the American Dental Association encouraging oral health care providers to offer a day of free dental care to underinsured families in celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month in February. This year, the Pediatric Dental Clinic at VCU School of Dentistry provided care valued at more than $50,000 to 78 children.

“We want our children, especially our school-age kids, to be able to go to school and thrive and pay attention in class. We know that kids with dental decay might miss a lot of school,” said Paula Coates, D.D.S., M.S., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at VCU School of Dentistry. “Cavities are the number one issue we see, which is why preventive care is so important.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease affecting school-age children. Poor oral health disproportionately affects children from lower-income families, who tend to miss more school and receive lower grades than healthier peers.

In addition to free oral health care, dental students worked to educate kids on the importance of oral health through a number of different games.

“I think the most important thing is educating the kids as well as the parents,” said Ji Yon Kim, a first-year dental student and one of the event coordinators for her class. “Our focus here today is to teach them how to brush and floss, stay away from sugary drinks before bed and to tell them that it’s necessary to come in for a checkup once in a while and to not wait until they feel pain.”

More than 90 students from the school volunteered at the event. Many of the first-and second-year dental students worked to educate participants through games and activities, while junior and senior dental students provided care in the clinic alongside residents and faculty members. Services provided included cleanings, applying sealants, placing crowns, and, when necessary, extracting teeth.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney poses with a group of dental students at the Give Kids a Smile Event
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney stopped by the event to show his support for oral health as an important component of overall health.

Even Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney dropped by the event to show his support for oral health as an important component of overall health. He toured the clinic, spoke to families and talked to the students about what got them interested in dentistry.

“As a pediatric dentist, I encourage all parents to find a dental home by the time their child turns one,” said Coates, who reminded participants to return to the school’s Pediatric Dental Clinic in the Children’s Pavilion at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU if they are in need of oral health care. 

Categories Public Health, Schoolwide News