More than 700 Jackson-area elementary school students went on a field trip to get their teeth cleaned - some for the first time - during Give Kids a Smile day Friday at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Jackson Public Schools bused students from Casey, Galloway and Johnson elementary schools to UMMC clinics at the School of Dentistry for free cleanings, fluoride treatments, oral hygiene instruction, cavity exams and more in the dental school's nine clinics.
Supervised by faculty members, scores of future dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants and nursing services professionals offered their services with the written consent of the children's parents during the local version of national Give Kids A Smile day, sponsored yearly since 2003 by the American Dental Association to deliver dental care to the underserved. The event allows all levels of dental students to gain experience while learning about community outreach, said Marla Martin, director of clinical operations and organizer of the event.
Third-year dental student Austin Holmes was busy putting sealants on his young patient's teeth, joking around with the calm boy and keeping the mood light.
"He's a great patient," said Holmes after the procedure was finished. "He understands what's going on, and he's been telling me about how he loves Spider Man."
Second-year dental student Brittany Varney, left, and third-year dental student Christopher Cathey, right, put a grin on Galloway Elementary student Antwuan Williams' face .
Keeping the patient at ease and giving him a non-frightening experience is key, said Holmes, a Meridian native. “We want to introduce these kids to a dentist and give them a good experience. We don’t want them scared. We want them to want to come back.”
The environment on Friday is one that helps relax the kids, said Anna Clare Saxon, a second-year dental student from Philadelphia. That pleasant experience is what could mean the difference between dreading a dental appointment or reminding a parent that it’s time to go back to see the nice dentist.
Kaitlyn Ellis, a third-year dental student, said Give Kids A Smile also helps relate the importance of good dental hygiene to these students.
“We’re telling them how important it is to take care of their teeth,” said the Port Gibson native. “We’re teaching them how to properly floss and brush to avoid those cavities.”
Second-year dental student, Anna Clare Saxon, left, and third-year student Kaitlyn Ellis, right, put a sealant on the teeth of Casey Elementary student Aaralyn Gray.
In its 13th year, Give Kids A Smile is always attended by state Sen. Hillman Frazier, a longtime supporter of the program.
“This is the first contact many of these children will have with a dental professional,” said Frazier.
It’s also a time the state lawmaker said he can look at the outreach coming from UMMC’s School of Dentistry and relay its needs back to the Legislature to help continue the school’s mission.
Also on hand was state Rep. James Evans, who saluted the program as one that supports the local community and the large number of elementary students.
“The best of the best are coming out of this (dental) school,” said Evans. “And to be able to give students this kind of access to these professionals shows what we, as a community, can do to help our children.”