A group of tooth fairies offer encouragement to a child during the SIU SDM’s Give Kids a Smile Day.

ALTON - The Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (SIU SDM) hosted its 13th annual Give Kids a Smile Day on Monday, Oct. 8.

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Nearly 110 children between the ages of 3-13 received free comprehensive dental care valued at approximately $61,000 while also enjoying fun education activities highlighting the importance of oral health.

Ebonee Strong, of St. Louis, brought her three-year-old to Give Kids a Smile Day, because she understands the importance of oral health.

“I’ve noticed she has said her teeth hurt when she bites into an apple, and I don’t want her to have any kind of problem with her teeth,” Strong said. “I want her smile to match her great personality. My goal is to keep her healthy. It’s important for her to have fun and go to the dentist.”

All dental services were provided by SIU SDM faculty, students and staff, members of the Madison and St. Clair district dental societies, and Lewis and Clark Community College dental assisting and dental hygiene faculty and students. Professionals and volunteers from the community also participated.

First and second year SIU SDM students offered engaging educational activities, while third and fourth year students worked in the clinic.

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“We’re making balloon animals, painting faces, handing out tutus and more,” said first year dental student Courtney Smith, one of four tooth fairies at the event. “Our goal is to keep the kids from feeling nervous, and instead teach them about their teeth and make dentistry fun.”

Smith knows from experience the positive impact dentists have on children.

“I want to be a dentist, because when I was young I had a lot of dental work done,” she explained. “I was scared of the dentist, until I had a pediatric dentist who was amazing and changed my perspective. I’m here to help other children experience that.”

“We host this event annually on Columbus Day, so kids can come get the care they need on a day they’re out of school,” said Katie Kosten, DMD, assistant professor in the SIU SDM and director of community dentistry. “Give Kids a Smile is an extremely unique offering, because in addition to offering preventative services, we provided treatment, including fillings, crowns and extractions.”

“It’s incredibly important to get kids to the dentist early to develop not only a relationship with the dentist,” she added, “but also so we can preventatively catch things that might otherwise become an issue in the future.”

Give Kids A Smile Day is a national event sponsored by the American Dental Association to provide free dental treatment for underserved children. The event is organized to promote community awareness of the need for dental services among the underserved.

“This is a great opportunity not only for the families we serve, but also for our students,” Kosten said. “Give Kids a Smile shows them the important tie between community service and clinical care.”

The SIU School of Dental Medicine students manage approximately 35,000 patient visits each year at its patient clinics in Alton and East St. Louis. In addition, students offer oral health treatment, screenings and education to more than 10,000 people annually through a wide variety of off-campus community outreach events. These opportunities provide students the training they need to graduate and become highly skilled dentists. The School of Dental Medicine is a vital oral health care provider for residents of southern and central Illinois, and the St. Louis metropolitan region.

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