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Tuesday, Sep 21, 2021

Give Kids a Smile

In the Middle Georgia area, according to the Community Health Needs Assessment, only 43 percent of the population claimed to have access to a dentist.

This is nearly 10 percent  lower than the state average and nearly 20 percent lower than the national average. Many people do not go to the dentist for routine checks and cleanings because of the high cost associated with dental care, especially if they are not covered under insurance. Without routine cleanings, minor problems often go undetected until they are a much more expensive, and often times painful problem.

To help address this issue, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Georgia Dental Association (GDA) have specific funds set aside for supplies that are intended to go to the dental benefit of underserved children through an event known as “Give Kids a Smile.”

The event happens on the first Friday of February and is intended for dentists to volunteer their time and skills in treating kids that have no access to dental care free of charge. In the past few years, the event has lost traction in the Middle Georgia area and did not even take place in 2016, leaving tens of thousands of dollars worth of available dental material unused.

For several years, even before I came to Mercer, I knew I wanted to be a dentist. I have always had an interest in dentistry, and as a result, I knew that I wanted to use dentistry to give back to my community. I did not, however, think that I would be able to do so until I was actually a dentist.

As a Mercer Service Scholar, we are taught to use our skills and knowledge we have gained to address an issue we are passionate about in our community. For me, that was dentistry, specifically those who did not have access to care.

When I heard about “Give Kids a Smile,” and the difficulty they were having in finding patients, I saw this problem as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the dentists willing to give their time and professional services, and the underserved children of our community.

Through partners in our community such as the Bibb County School system and charitable operations such as “Project Giving,” we were able to connect 16 children to complimentary dental care in the Macon area. The value of this care was equivalent to more than $15,000.

However, while it is easy to feel good about the work that was done through “Give Kids a Smile,” we cannot lose sight of the real issue at hand. Programs like GKAS are an extremely beneficial for a short term solution; however, even the relatively small number of patients we see will at some point in the future need access to care again. For this reason, some of the best help we can give patients is the knowledge of how they can have affordable dental care.

While there are certainly larger issues at hand contributing to a lack of dental care that must be addressed at a higher level, there are things we can do to alleviate some of the troubles our community members face. The best way to make an impact in your community is to find what you are passionate about and find a need you can address that your skills and passions will fulfill. For me, that avenue presented itself in the form of “Give Kids a Smile.”


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