Free dental screening event for kids enters fifth year | News

A student dental hygienist examines a child's mouth as staff look on
A child receives a dental check-up during the 2023 Give Kids a Smile event

April 2, 2024 – Denton – If you avoid going to the dentist, you're not alone. One study showed that 36% of adults avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. Some of these fears stem from negative childhood experiences.

Texas Woman's University students and faculty hope to spark smiles, not tears, at the fifth annual TWU Giving Kids a Smile event on Saturday, April 6, at the TWU Dental Hygiene Clinic.

Organized and run by dental hygiene students, the event provides free oral care to children with severe dental needs. Students ages 5 to 18 receive free preventive services, including dental exams, cleanings, X-rays and sealants. Since its launch in 2019, the event has served approximately 150 children.

“This event touches your heart,” said Charlene Dickinson, director of TWU’s dental hygiene program. “It's a lot of work and you're tired at the end of the day, but you leave feeling good. We make it fun. The family is always so grateful. That makes it all worth it.

While we know we need to visit the dentist, we may forget the importance of dental care, especially for children. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

After sending Dickinson an email request about children in need of dental care, students in her class organized a day-long event that helped 25 children receive free preventive services in 2019. Nearly 100 student and teacher volunteers helped approximately 45 children.

Dental hygiene student wearing butterfly costume
A dental hygiene student in costume during the 2023 Give Kids a Smile event

This request led to the creation of Give Kids Smiles, which became a community service project within Dickinson Community Oral Health Practicum. Dickinson and her students travel to local school districts to find families in need of emergency dental care.

The 2024 event will feature some notable differences, starting with a new location. In fall 2023, Texas Woman's Hospital opened a 20,142-square-foot dental hygiene clinic with 32 operating rooms, 12 radiology rooms and a simulation laboratory. Since 1973, TWU dental hygiene students have been providing low-cost dental cleaning services to the community.

“Our facility is much larger,” Dickinson said. “We will have space to offer more services in a comfortable atmosphere. In our previous clinic we were all on top of each other. Now, we can spread out.

Another difference is the involvement of TWU's School of Nursing. In addition to dental services, children will receive general health screenings from nursing and practicing nursing students.

“It's all about interprofessional collaboration,” Dickinson said. “It's about us providing patients with something beyond dental hygiene. We can provide them with dental hygiene, but if we bring in nurses, we're providing them with another kind of care.

Interprofessional Education (IPE) brings students from two or more disciplines together to learn from each other to improve patient health. In this case, dental hygiene and nursing students and a Spanish-language medical interpreter student (if needed) will work together in a small group and stay with the child during the visit.

A student examines a child's mouth in a dental hygiene clinic while another student looks on

Over the past 18 months, since Noralyn Pickens was appointed associate dean for interprofessional education and strategic initiatives in the College of Health Sciences and Nursing, there has been a significant increase in IPE activity on the TWU campus. Her position was created to establish the infrastructure to support interprofessional activities.

IPE has also been implemented at various levels on campus, but most of it is a collaborative program between TWU and other colleges.

“I think my job is to bring people together,” Pickens said. “I’m really happy to see different departments in the School of Nursing and School of Health Sciences that are not connected to each other. There are opportunities for them to talk to each other and learn about IPE.

The “Smiles for Kids” event is one of several IPE events the Texas Women's Association will host in April, which is also National IPE Month.

The Give Kids Smiles campaign has received grants in its first few years, but Dickinson said finding funding has become increasingly difficult, especially as the campaign has grown in size.

“If we can help one person with a problem, it's a win-win,” Dickinson said. “It’s really just about helping the community. It’s very valuable for students to learn how to be good health care providers. We also give back to the community and share our knowledge and skills with people who don’t have access to health care.

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