Children's Dental Day draws big (healthy) smiles

by Erin Wirth, UNMC College of Dentistry | May 01, 2020

Image with caption: A patient receives much-needed dental care from UNMC College of Dentistry students.

A patient receives much-needed dental care from UNMC College of Dentistry students.

The UNMC College of Dentistry was full of smiles during the 37th annual Children's Dental Day, held March 6 in Lincoln. At the event, held before social distancing measures went into effect, UNMC dental and dental hygiene students, postgraduate dental residents, faculty and staff provided free dental care and oral health education to 218 low-income and underserved children from communities across Nebraska.

"They did a really good job taking care of my teeth. Thank you, I'm smiling big now!" said Alonzo, a second grader from Fremont.

For the children and their parents, Children's Dental Day fills an important need. For many of the children, it was their first visit to a dentist. They received dental cleanings, restorations, extractions and other essential dental care -- 1,625 procedures were performed and the value of the services provided was $155,775.

"I have a big family and can't afford dental care for all my children," said Heather McBright from Lincoln. "Without this service, my children wouldn't get all the care they need. I can't thank the students and all the volunteers enough. This is truly a blessing."

The College of Dentistry community benefits just as much as the patients.

"Our students, residents, faculty and staff are able to give back to our communities and care for children who otherwise wouldn't have access to dental care," said Jillian Wallen, B.D.S., M.S., assistant dean for extramural activities and outreach for the UNMC College of Dentistry.

"Everyone involved has a role in changing lives 'one smile at a time.'"

Children's Dental Day also serves as an interprofessional education event. Students from the UNMC College of Nursing attend to provide wellness checks and students from other local colleges - Southeast Community College, Central Community College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -- provide clinical assistance and translation services.

Students value the hands-on learning experiences the event provides.

"Especially here in Nebraska, if you practice in a small town, you treat children. It's important for students to get real-life experience working with children," said Mary Pollmiller, a fourth-year dental student. "I absolutely love the outreach events that the college participates in. The people we serve are always very thankful for our services. Giving back to the community is something that is very important to the College of Dentistry, and to me!"

Starting in 2001, the UNMC College of Dentistry has held 37 Children's Dental Days in Lincoln and western Nebraska, treating more than 6,000 children and providing more than $3 million in dental services to low-income and underserved children. The event is part of the American Dental Association's oral health care program for underserved children, Give Kids A Smile.

The children are identified and prescreened by volunteers in their communities, including UNMC College of Dentistry alumni. Many of these volunteers attend the event with the children to provide emotional support.

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