UTHSC Addresses Dental Care Gap by Treating Kids for Free

Category: Features

By Chris Green

The UT Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry filled cavities and offered other free dental care to schoolchildren as part of its annual Give Kids A Smile day in February.

Under the supervision of College of Dentistry faculty, dental students performed free procedures such as examinations, cleanings, fillings, extractions and fluoride applications for 97 students from Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis. Give Kids A Smile is a 20-year-old project of the American Dental Association, and UTHSC has participated in it for about a decade.

 A group of children smiling for a picture in front of the UT Health Science Center kids clinic

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee ranks 38th for dental health in the nation, and 70% of people cite cost as the top reason they do not go to the dentist. By addressing this issue with events like Give Kids A Smile, the UTHSC College of Dentistry embodies the Be One UT value of being bold and impactful, serving the state by tackling grand challenges.

Dentists cleaning a child's teeth.

Orpheus Triplett, assistant dean of community oral health and outreach, said “The event allows us to increase access to care to children from neighborhoods where that access may be limited. At the same time, it increases our visibility in the city and in those neighborhoods represented by the schools and children engaged in the program. It is a win-win for all and the student interaction from both entities is invaluable.”

In years past, the event has served students from sixth through eighth grade. This year it expanded to include high school students.

“This later teen age group is preparing to transition to adulthood, and their oral hygiene techniques need to evolve from their childhood practices,” said Cassandra Christiansen, associate professor and director of school-based programs and community outreach for the College of Dentistry. “This is a perfect time to provide individualized oral hygiene instruction that meets the specific needs of each student.”