Dentist pioneers program to help kids

Dentist pioneers program to help kids

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Dr. Jeff Dalin still finds it hard to believe in 2007 there are children in America who are going to bed in pain, won’t smile and do poorly in school because of dental disease which is so easily preventable. As a dentist Dalin knows the importance of teaching young children how to care for their teeth and gums. Unfortunately 53% of all 6-8-year-old Americans and an even higher percentage of 17-year-olds have already suffered from tooth decay.

Dalin’s answer to the crisis, Give Kids a Smile (GKAS), recently held their February two-day clinic providing 642 kids with $220,000 worth of dental work. There were more than 400 volunteers and at least 80 dentists at the clinic. So far the local organization has held 11 clinics over the past five years providing more than 5,500 kids with $1.6 million worth of dentistry.

Seven years ago Dalin was part of a Greater St. Louis Dental Society group meeting to study access issues to dental care. They were trying to find ways to help those who needed it the most. While there are lots of opportunities for dentists to go to other countries to help with dental care, Dalin wanted to find a way to help out in “our own backyard and give back to the community.”

In August 2001, Dalin participated in the National Council of Jewish Women’s Back-To-School! Store . He worked in the education room talking with parents and siblings about dental health and answering questions. As the day progressed he realized the need he was looking for was right there in front him along with a way to help.

He brought his idea to the Dental Society in the fall. They started to plan by contacting various community organizations and institutions and just six months later GKAS had their first clinic. They serviced 325 kids during that first clinic held in February 2002 in an old dental office with just 15 dental chairs. Their next three clinics were held at the Forest Park Community College Hygiene School which has 30 chairs. Now the clinics are held in February and October at St. Louis University Center for Advanced Dental Education which has 60 chairs.

The two-day clinics do more than just provide treatment. The full service includes: x-rays, exams, hygiene, cleaning, fluoride treatments, restorative work, fillings and even more complex procedures. Each client goes through triage to determine the services they need. Orthodontist Dr. Robert Shapiro teams up with Dalin to handle the triage. Shapiro has been an active participant in the program since the first clinic.

“It is a great reality check,” Shapiro said. “We tend to take it for granted that we have toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. For some people these are luxuries.”

Both Dalin and Shapiro are quick to point out the clinics are so successful because of the huge numbers of volunteers. They escort the kids around the clinic, provide entertainment and other support. Dalin said they make sure the volunteers have fun as well by providing a theme for the day such as: tropical, Halloween and the wild, wild West.

“There is a lot of fun things to do to keep the kids occupied while they are waiting,” Dalin said. “Radio Disney comes, there is a magician, story telling, face painting, toys and give-a-ways.”

The best part of this story according to Dalin is what happened after the first clinic when he contacted the American Dental Association.

“I told them anyone can do this and I would give them a cookbook on how to put it together,” Dalin said. “The organization adopted it and now the first Friday in February is National Give Kids a Smile Day. And it all started here in St. Louis.”

The national exposure and non-profit status has provided many more opportunities for funding and surprises. Their first large grant came from Daughters of Charity Health Care for smile factories giving children the ability to receive more dental work than can be accomplished in one day. Last February, a dentist who participated in the program was called up to serve in Iraq and reached out to help children there.

Dalin said it has been an education for the dental providers and volunteers. For instance, they like having the clinic on Fridays because sometimes the schools will bring the kids. Then they learned a lot of the kids attending the clinic went without lunch because they depended on the free lunch at school. Dalin said a call went out to Service International who now provides food for the kids at the clinic.

“The children teach us a lot about their lives,” Dalin said. “We’re still learning and we’ve hardly made a dent in the issue. It takes your breath away.”

The program is growing and so are Dalin’s dreams for the future. There is more education and outreach and maybe a free-standing building. They are also looking for ways to bring the services to more children such as a mobile van.

“We’re giving back to the community in a way nobody else can do,” Dalin said.

One way the community can help out with fundraising is by participating in the organization’s second annual charity golf tournament. The Golfing “FORE” Kids takes place on Monday, June 4 at the Bogey Hills Country club in St. Charles. Participants will enjoy a fun-filled day with lunch, golfing with some additional formats, dinner, auction and awards.

For more information call 636-397-6453 or visit givekidsasmile.org.

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