Free dental screening event for kids enters fifth year

a dental hygienist student examines a child's mouth while staff members look on
A child receiving a dental exam at the 2023 Giving Kids a Smile event

April 2, 2024 – DENTON – If you avoid going to the dentist, you are not alone. A research study revealed that 36% of the adult population avoids going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. Some of those fears stem from negative childhood experiences. 

Texas Woman’s students and faculty hope to elicit smiles instead of tears at the fifth annual TWU Giving Kids a Smile event on Saturday, April 6, at the TWU Dental Hygiene Clinic.  

The event, organized and run by dental hygiene students, provides free oral care services to children with significant dental needs. Students from 5-18 receive free preventative services, including dental exams, cleanings, x-rays and sealants. The event has served around 150 children since its 2019 inception.

“This event gets to your heart,” said Charlene Dickinson, TWU’s Dental Hygiene Program Director. “It is a lot of work and you are so tired at the end of day but you leave with such a good feeling. We make it fun. The families are always so appreciative. It makes it all worth it.”

While we know we need to go to the dentist, we may forget how important dental care is, especially for children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States. 

An email request to Dickinson about children in need of dental care led to students in her class putting together a day-long event that helped 25 children receive free preventative services in 2019. Five years later, that event has grown to nearly 100 student and faculty volunteers helping approximately 45 children. 

dental hygiene student in scrubs wearing a butterfly costume
A dental hygiene student in costume during the 2023 Giving Kids a Smile event

That request led to the creation of the Giving Kids a Smile event, which became a community service project in Dickinson’s Community Oral Health Practicum course. Dickinson and her students reach out to local school districts to find families in need of urgent dental care.

There will be a few notable differences in the 2024 event, starting with a new location. In fall 2023, Texas Woman’s opened a 20,142 square-foot dental hygiene clinic with 32 operatories, 12 radiology units and a simulation lab. Since 1973, TWU dental hygiene students have provided low-cost teeth cleanings to the community. 

“Our facility is so much bigger,” Dickinson said. “We will have the room to provide more services in a comfortable atmosphere. In our old clinic, we were all on top of each other. Now, we can spread out.”

The other difference is the involvement of TWU’s College of Nursing. In addition to dental services, children will also receive a general wellness exam from nursing and nurse practitioner students.

“It is all about the interprofessional collaboration,” Dickinson said. “It’s about what we give patients beyond the dental hygiene scope. We can give them dental hygiene services but if we bring in nurses, then it gives them another element of care.”

Interprofessional education (IPE) brings students from two or more disciplines together to learn with and from one another to improve patient health. In this case, dental hygiene and nursing students and a Spanish medical interpreter student, if needed, will work together in a pod and stay with a child throughout his or her visit.

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

There has been a visible rise of IPE events across the TWU campus over the last 18 months, starting when Noralyn Pickens was named the associate dean for interprofessional education and strategic initiatives in the College of Health Sciences and College of Nursing. Her position was created to set up the infrastructure to support interprofessional activities. 

IPE has also always occurred at various levels across campus, but much of it was TWU programs working externally with other colleges. 

“I think my job is to bring people together,” Pickens said. “I have really enjoyed seeing the College of Nursing and the different components in the College of Health Sciences who were not connecting, connect. To get them talking with each other and looking at what the opportunities are for IPE.”

The Giving Kids a Smile Event is one of several IPE events that Texas Woman’s will hold in April, which is also IPE month nationwide.  

Grants have paid for the Giving Kids a Smile event the first few years but Dickinson says it has been tougher and tougher to find funding, especially as it has grown in size. 

“If we can help one person that has a problem, that’s a win-win,” Dickinson said. “It’s really just to help the community. It’s very valuable for the students in learning how to be a good healthcare provider. It’s also us giving back to the community and sharing our knowledge and skills with people who don’t have access to healthcare.”

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Page last updated 11:32 AM, May 30, 2024