UF and private practice dentists team up to bring smiles to low-income children during Give Kids a Smile

Most children would agree going to the dentist is not a cause for celebration. But those children don’t include a special group of elementary students who are about to take part in this year’s American Dental Association Give Kids A Smile program at the University of Florida.

Four Gainesville elementary schools and the state Department of Children and Families have signed up 150 children for the second annual event from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 6 at the UF College of Dentistry. The goal of UF’s Give Kids a Smile program is to pair children from low-income families with dental students who will provide free dental screenings, fluoride treatments, dental sealants and preliminary treatment. Once the initial workup is complete, volunteer dentists from the Alachua County Dental Association will adopt the children into their private practices so treatment can continue in the future.

Another component of this year’s Give Kids a Smile effort will be to train 75 Alachua County elementary school nurses and teachers during a Jan. 30 workshop at the college. Nurses and teachers will learn to conduct pediatric dental screenings and will be given educational materials they can take back to their schools to teach children how to properly care for their teeth and gums.

“We’ve found from past experience that the people in the front lines, interacting with these children on a daily basis, are the school nurses and teachers,” said Kimberly Jones-Rudolph, D.M.D., M.P.H., an assistant clinical professor who has spearheaded the college’s Give Kids a Smile efforts over the past two years.

“It makes sense that training our school nurses and teachers to conduct regular in-school dental screenings and dental hygiene education is an effective and efficient use of resources to promote dental health in underserved student populations,” said Jones-Rudolph.

More than 10,000 toothbrushes, dental hygiene kits and educational materials will be distributed to school nurses from all of Alachua County’s 25 public elementary schools to be dispensed to students during in-class dental health and hygiene presentations.

The College of Dentistry is active in Give Kids a Smile activities in other areas of the state. The UF Hialeah Dental Clinic will partner with the South Florida District Dental Association to provide primary dental care to about 50 foster children. Dentists from the Northeast District Dental Association will partner with the UF Jacksonville Dental Clinic to treat more than 25 children, and the St. Petersburg/Hillsborough Community College dental clinics will work with dentists from the West Coast District Dental Association to treat nearly 100 children.