UNE dental programs hold third Give Kids A Smile event

Two dental students clean a patient's teeth in the oral health clinic
The event saw a record 88 patients from RSU 23 in Old Orchard Beach.

The University of New England College of Dental Medicine (CDM) and Department of Dental Hygiene held their third Give Kids A Smile event on Friday, Feb. 9, providing $14,500 in free dental care to a record 88 patients ages 4 to 18.

Three schools from Regional School Unit 23 (Old Orchard Beach) bussed their students to UNE’s Oral Health Center, located on the Portland Campus for the Health Sciences, for the event. Patient services included free dental screening examinations, oral hygiene education, cleanings, fluoride varnish, and sealants.

The first Gives Kids a Smile was held at UNE in February 2020, and the second was held in 2023.

The now-annual event is part of national Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) celebrations held across the country, in which thousands of dentists across the country give their time each year to provide underserved children with much-needed dental care.

At UNE, the event engages students and faculty from both UNE’s dental medicine and dental hygiene programs in upholding the University’s mission to improve the health of people and communities in Maine and beyond.

“By hosting events like GKAS to improve access and education for the children of Maine, we can decrease the number impacted by dental pain that often leads to poor nutrition, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and missed days of school,” said Nicole Kimmes, D.D.S., dean of the UNE College of Dental Medicine. “Our goal with this event is to create a fun dental experience for the OOB students while connecting families in need of a dental home with our Oral Health Center clinic for future care.”

RSU 23 district nurse Sarah Burnham, RN, who leads the school district’s efforts for the GKAS initiative, said she was inspired by the children’s healthy smiles following the experience.

“It was so great to work with UNE again this year,” Burnham reflected. “Oral health is so important, so it is great to have this program offered to our district. With this program, our students can have a positive experience going to a dentist, which will make their next visit that much easier for them, as well.”

Also in attendance were members of ADA Forsyth Institute, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Therese Cahill, executive director of the Maine Dental Association.

On the ride back to OOB, each child received a goodie bag containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, oral health education materials, activity sheets, crayons, and a sticker. Parents and guardians received follow-up reports outlining any dental findings, as well as vouchers for their children to receive a free comprehensive oral evaluation, radiographs, and treatment plan for a future visit at the UNE Oral Health Center.

Owen Williams (D.M.D., ’24) said the day was a win-win for all involved, as students gained experience in pediatric dentistry while the patients benefitted from care they may otherwise have not received.

“Pediatric dentistry is a skill that is most definitely useful when transitioning to community-based externship rotation or private practice,” Williams remarked. “For the patients, I believe this can relieve dental anxiety or fear and hopefully increase future visits to a dentist to maintain adequate oral health.”

Kimberly Soulard, CDA, associate director of clinical affairs for the College of Dental Medicine, said she was grateful to all of the day’s participants for making the event possible to benefit RSU 23.

“As always, it is heartwarming to see our UNE students, professional staff, faculty, community partners, and vendors coming together in support of this wonderful event,” Soulard said. “Seeing the children have such a positive experience in our facility encourages us to continue this annual tradition for years to come.”

Dr. Christopher Cotterill speaks with WMTW

Owen Williams speaks with WMTW