January 30, 2012

‘Give Kids a Smile Day’ to mark 10th anniversary

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The annual “Give Kids a Smile Day” at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will mark its 10th anniversary later this week.

The SIU Carbondale Dental Hygiene Program, in conjunction with the Southern Illinois Dental Society and the Southern Illinois Dental Hygiene Society, will provide the service on Friday, Feb. 3.

The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the SIU Carbondale Community Dental Center, which is west of the SIU Arena. 

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the event at the SIU Carbondale Community Dental Center.  For more information, contact Jennifer M. Meyer, assistant instructor and “Give Kids a Smile Day” coordinator, at 618/453-8826 or by email at jenn10@siu.edu.


Jennifer M. Meyer, a clinical instructor for the University’s Dental Hygiene Program, has been coordinator for the annual event since its inception.  The program has steadily grown from about 50 children participating over two days in 2003 to about 240 children each of the past two years.  Meyer anticipates another 240 children will participate again this year.

The free dental care is open to all children from infants to 14 years old who do not receive regular dental treatment and do not have regular access to dental care. 

Appointments are preferred. To make an appointment, call the center at 618/453-8826 and specify the visit is for “Give Kids a Smile Day.”

Participating children will receive dental examinations, x-rays, cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants and fillings, or simple extractions under special circumstances.  The program also works to find a “dental home” for patients if there is a need for additional treatment.

New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggest that infants should visit a dentist when their teeth begin to emerge, Meyer said.

According to the American Dental Association, dental disease among children from underserved families is “epidemic,” with 80 percent of children’s tooth decay found in just 25 percent of children, said Dr. Dwayne G. Summers, clinical associate professor and Dental Hygiene Program director.

“Oral health is integral to overall health,” he said.  “Untreated dental disease is painful and affects a child’s physical, emotional and social development. Kids with untreated dental decay can’t eat or sleep properly; they can’t concentrate in school, not to mention how it affects them emotionally.”

The event is also important for students, who learn to interact with child patients.  Sarah Lansdell, a junior majoring in dental hygiene, worked at the event for the first time last year.  While nervous at first, the work flowed much easier once the day began.

“It was exciting to know that we are helping the kids, getting to listen to them and having them talk to us and tell us what they do,” she said.  “I’m looking forward to meeting the kids and having fun with them.  They say the darnedest things.”

It is important that hygienists take time to talk and listen to patients, Lansdell said.

“We need to know what their habits are and what their routines will be, and what they like and dislike, so we can try and incorporate a (brushing) schedule and system that works for them,” she said.

Parental involvement to ensure their children practice good oral hygiene is also critical, Lansdell said.  Some children need assistance brushing their teeth while others might need reminding.  Children can feel they are in charge of oral hygiene, but parents “actually help build their confidence in getting them to do it properly,” Lansdell said.

About 93 students and 17 faculty from the dental hygiene program, along with several volunteer dentists and hygienists, will provide the free care.  The outpouring of support, which includes donating supplies and other items by other community dental professionals, is an integral part of the program’s success, Meyer said.

“Your mouth is a portal to your entire body,” she said.  “Your oral health affects the rest of your health.  If we instill in these children at a young age the importance of visiting a dentist, taking care of their teeth, and overall oral health, they are more likely to stick with that pattern as they get older.”

Brushing, flossing, eating a balanced diet, regular dental visits and having access to fluoride and sealants are ways to prevent dental disease, Summers said.

“Give Kids a Smile is designed to accomplish two things -- help children get the dental care they so desperately need and raise awareness that our children deserve a better health care system that addresses their dental health,” Summers said.

The Dental Hygiene Program is in the School of Allied Health, which is within the College of Applied Sciences and Arts.