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‘Give Kids a Smile’ provides free dental care to a growing number of youngsters

Volunteer dentists including the Tooth Fairy are all smiles as they lend a hand at the Boys & Girls Club in Phoenix.

When the Arizona Dental Association hosted the Give Kids a Smile event for the first time in 2003, 665 children in need of dental work received treatment for free.
This year volunteer dentists treated twice that number.
The tough part, according to organizers, is not getting dentists to give their time. The challenge is getting the kids who need dental work to show up.
The event is an American Dental Association initiative to raise awareness for underprivileged children in need of dental care. The program, which consists of volunteer dentists and dental professionals who lend their time and offices to treat children at no cost, began in 2002 in St. Louis.
In 2003, Phoenix dentist and philanthropist Dr. Greg Pafford helped develop a local event.
Pafford, who also established a dental clinic at the Boys and Girls Club in Phoenix, has been instrumental in helping the event grow.
“What I do is make it a fun event. I try to get the Arizona Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Suns involved. Players sign autographs, and we’ve had the mascots come in and entertain the kids,” said Pafford.
Originally, the event took place during National Children’s Dental Health month in February, with one event per Friday throughout the month.
Ginger Froncek, director of the Arizona Dental Foundation, which shares digs with the association, said they found attempting to schedule treatments in one month was difficult.
“We also found that dentists wanted to do it more than once,” she said.
They proceeded to spread out the event throughout the school year, starting in the fall and going into spring.
Since then, around $1.5 million in free services have been provided to Arizona children.
Froncek explained: “A big part of our growth has to do with the dental school in the East Valley (Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa). They shut down the school for a day so we can bring volunteer dentists in, plus the dental students work, too,”
In 2007, there were almost 750 volunteers that either provided dental service or assisted in it.
“Beyond the dental school, the other great champions are the hygiene schools, because they also shut down their school for a day and bring in students to help us screen them and do hygiene,” said Froncek.
Volunteer dentists are usually ADA members who are recruited through the Arizona office. They provide services such as fillings, root canal and pulpotomy procedures, crowns, and preventative care such as sealants and fluoride varnish application.
The most common service is fillings, with 930 completed in 2007 alone.
Children who qualify for the free services are selected from schools that participate in sealant programs through the Arizona Department of Health Services Office of Oral Health. That means that school nurses in these schools are on top of oral health and can recommend students who need care.
“Most of the kids we see down there, their parents are in jail or not home. That’s the hardest thing about the program, to get kids to show up,” Pafford said.
Froncek said that the number of children in need of dental services is too large for them to handle alone, and the 1,174 children they treated in 2007 represents a small number compared to the great number of children who don’t receive care.
“They’re losing hours of school in sick time because they’re at home in pain,” she said.
Like Pafford, she also said transportation and parent non-compliance are among the biggest issues.
“For them to take time off work to take their child to the dentist, even if it’s free, costs them,” she said.
Despite its obstacles, the Give Kids a Smile event continues to grow.
Pafford said this is in part because the services they provide are high-quality as opposed to “patch up work.” Additionally, he said more and more people are getting involved and helping in their own way.
“With the help of volunteers, our event will only grow and grow. Having the support of local sports teams and our state representatives is really important in balancing this program and getting the funds necessary to do it,” he said.

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