LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

Giving Kids a Smile


“It wasn’t scary.” And that was a revelation to Se Maj, a third-grader at ReNew McDonough City Park Academy after having her teeth examined and cleaned. She and 119 of her classmates had a dental check-up at LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry as part of the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile Day (GKAS).

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The tone of the day was set when the Tooth Fairy, Sparkle the Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Tooth gave the youngsters a rousing welcome as they arrived, and the costumed dental hygiene students interacted with them throughout the day. While one group was in the clinic, others rotated through a variety of activities planned to keep them engaged and maximize the benefit of their time at the school.
Interactive games with hygiene students and faculty taught the kids about foods and drinks that keep teeth happy and about those that attract “sugar bugs.” Dental Laboratory Technology associate professor David Vela performed a magic show that captivated the 8-year-olds, especially the “assistants” called up from the audience. Others enjoyed the glorious weather as volunteers from UNO and the LSU Pre-dental Society organized soccer games and other physical activities on the campus athletic field to promote fitness, also a part of overall health. The kids had one-on-one instruction on the right way brush and floss, and they were able to practice on a collection of stuffed animals, complete with a full set of teeth. After choosing a Mardi Gras mask made for them by LSU Health dental students and fending off a giant dinosaur, they had their pictures taken with him in their masks.
It was a morning full of fun for a cause that will benefit the kids for a lifetime.

Give Kids a Smile Day launched nationally in 2003 as a way for dentists across the country to provide dental services to underserved children at no cost. At Louisiana’s only dental school, Give Kids a Smile Day 2017 was Friday, February 10, and Dr. Gary Roberts, President of the American Dental Association, chose to celebrate it there.

LSU Health New Orleans dental and dental hygiene faculty, along with dental students, residents, fellows and dental hygiene students teamed up with community dentists to screen the third-graders and apply sealants as needed. The kids brought the results of their check-ups home to their parents, along with details about resources for follow-up care. For some of the kids, this was their first visit to the dentist.

Tooth decay has become epidemic among the youngest children in the U.S. A rapid form of tooth decay, known as early childhood caries (ECC), is the most common disease of young children. It is five times more common than asthma. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, by the age of three, 5-10 % of American children have oral health issues. By the age of five, approximately 60% of children in the U.S. will have had cavities. Children from low-income and minority families have a higher incidence of oral health issues. This group of children is less likely to see a dentist, and their disease is more than twice as likely to go untreated.

“This is the first year our Give Kids a Smile Day was student driven,” notes LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry Dean Henry Gremillion, DDS. “Under the capable leadership of third-year DDS student Hannah Boudreaux and her committee, the event was one of our largest and most successful. It provided a tremendous opportunity for our students to give back.”
“The faculty were ready to pass it on to the student body,” says Boudreaux, who is one of 12 GKAS ambassadors chosen nationally. She traveled to St. Louis to learn more about how to organize and run the event. “ I figured I’d give it a shot, and I’m thankful I did. It’s been an amazing learning opportunity. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people throughout the process. I got to pick a great committee. It wouldn’t be as extravagant as it is today without them.”

A reporter from ADA News was on hand to cover the event for a feature in this national publication. WDSU-TV photojournalist Jeremy Burson worked on a video essay for the 5pm news.

The New Orleans Dental Association provided volunteer community dentists, as well as a delicious lunch. Campus Federal sponsored the dinosaur photo booth, and Colgate and Henry Schein Dental donated supplies. In addition to their bright smiles, the ReNew McDonough City Park Academy students also went home with a goody bag containing a new toothbrush, toothpaste and floss to help keep them that way.
Although the order of the day was fun, Boudreaux, who plans to specialize in Pediatric Dentistry, reflects on the true purpose of the event. “A lot of these kids don’t come from households that are able to regularly visit the dentist. This day gives them the opportunity to be educated about oral health, and we’re also telling mom if you don’t have a dental home, we’re inviting you to be a patient at LSU.”

A child’s first visit to the dentist can be memorably exciting, or it can be memorable for other reasons. LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry and its partners went all out to make sure this one was memorable for the right reasons. These kids found out that going to the dentist can be fun! And who knows, some of them may one day decide to become dentists themselves!

“It’s an amazing feeling at the end of the day,” says Boudreaux. “It’s great to look into the clinic and say, Wow we did this!”