Dental students volunteer to give preschool kids a smile
A trip to the dentist can be a nerve-wracking experience for a 3-year-old.
“There’s scary noises,” said Natalie Dunlop, a third-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry. “There’s water. There’s suction. There’s buzzing. There are motors. I can understand that it can be scary and overwhelming.”
To help overcome the anxiety surrounding the dentist’s chair, the School of Dentistry hosted 120 students from Durham Head Start for free cleanings at the annual Give Kids a Smile Day on Feb. 3.
“We get to be one of the first faces of dentistry they get to see,” said Duane Lauchengco, a third-year dental student who was among the 160 dentistry school volunteers. “Hopefully we can give a positive experience for them and have that lead into a lifetime of good oral health care.”
Give Kids a Smile Day is a national program organized by the American Dental Association to provide free care and health education for children in communities across the country. Nationwide, the program will provide dental care to nearly 300,000 children.
Held at Carolina for the fourth year, Give Kids a Smile Day provided free oral screenings, cleanings and fluoride treatments for the Head Start students. If provided through a private practice, the care would have cost nearly $7,000.
The event also featured a health fair with volunteers from the UNC School of Medicine, the UNC School of Nursing, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC athletic teams. The fair had stations teaching nutrition, hand washing and how to brush teeth.
“We try to get our children and their families educated on oral health as early as possible,” said Deric Boston, the health manager at Durham Head Start. “By bringing the 3-year-olds, we permeate the [Head Start] centers
with knowledge about health care. This type of event helps them to deal with some of their preconceived notions. If their family is not pressed to go to the dentist, this gives them a desire to get themselves to the dentist.”
Give Kids a Smile Day volunteers also viewed the day as a way to break down dental anxieties early.
“It’s not scary to go to the dentist,” Dunlop said. “Some of [the children] are wide open and ready to go and want to touch everything. And then some of them start crying as soon as you open the door to the clinic because they’ve never been back there. We want to show them that it’s not scary.”
By interacting with the dentist early and eliminating the fear, the volunteers hoped to set up the 3-year-olds for a lifetime of good oral health.
“The earlier that we can get in a positive experience and give kids a smile when they go to the dentist, hopefully it can have a long impact on their life,” Lauchengco said.