KinderSmile Oral Health Center’s Trenton location, which opened on October 1, 2020, aims to provide the children and families of underprivileged communities with accessible dental health care and oral hygiene education. Through a variety of community educational programs and diagnostic and preventative services, founder and CEO of KinderSmile, Nicole McGrath-Barnes, DDS, is working towards improving overall health in the city of Trenton one smile at a time.
“KinderSmile was birthed out of a personal dental experience that I had,” said McGrath-Barnes. “I knew that I needed to be the voice and the advocate for those who are uninsured and underinsured.”
After receiving her degree in 1991, McGrath-Barnes began her own private practice. However, after a couple of years working in her own business, she began to realize a gap in her work that she still wanted to fulfill.
“I was practicing for probably about three, four years, and I noticed that something was missing in my profession,” she said. “After lots of reflection, I realized that I wasn’t giving back to the community. That’s just who I am; I like to serve, I like to pour back into my community.”
To fill that void, in 1993, McGrath-Barnes decided to approach her local Head Start, Montclair Child Development Center, with hopes of becoming their program dentist.
Once approved, McGrath-Barnes began to visit twice a month to teach oral hygiene education and disease prevention to children and their caregivers through puppets and brushing techniques.
“It was wonderful. I felt whole again,” she said. “I felt now I’m giving back to the community.”
As months progressed, McGrath-Barnes increased her involvement with the Head Start. On her free days, the Head Start would send consent forms to parents and they would bus children to McGrath-Barnes’ private office, five minutes away from the program, where she began providing free dental health care to the children that were at or below poverty levels.
“I loved it. I felt fulfilled. I felt like I really identified problems in the community that needed to be addressed,” she said.
One Wednesday in 2007, on her off day while home cooking dinner for her family, McGrath-Barnes received a call from her receptionist. A child showed up in need of her help with a swelling. Without hesitation, she headed straight to her office to address the problem.
Once she arrived, McGrath-Barnes knew the child was from the Head Start program. “She saw me and she leaped into my arms and she said, ‘Dr. Nicole, Dr. Nicole’ and the minute she said Dr. Nicole I knew she was a Head Start student because they couldn’t pronounce my last name,” said McGrath-Barnes.
Upon inspection, she noticed the small child had a swelling the size of a golf ball in the lower right side of her mouth. According to her care giver, the child had had this swelling for over three months. Due to her Medicaid and lack of coverage, the family of the child could not find a dentist to treat her.
Immediately, McGrath-Barnes went to fixing the possibly deadly infection at no cost to the family.
After coming face to face with the issue economically disadvantaged families battle in receiving oral health care, McGrath-Barnes began to realize that her job was bigger than she initially thought.
As a spiritual individual, McGrath-Barnes prayed to God for guidance. “I said, ‘God, you’ve got to give me one confirmation that this is what you’re calling me to do’,” she said.
Within six months, she got her answer. Right after treating the young child in her office for the swelling in her mouth, a young boy from Prince George County, MD, Deamonte Driver, passed away from a similar infection that was left untreated due to lack of oral health insurance. The headline story was the wake-up call McGrath-Barnes needed to further her practice.
“I knew that I was called and this is my purpose,” she said. “And that’s how KinderSmile Foundation was born.”
From that moment on, McGrath-Barnes began pushing to reach more and more families in need. Her practice became mobile and she started seeing more patients.
“We started to grow and grow, not only in Montclair, but East Orange, and Irvington, and Newark and more schools and homeless shelters and things of that nature,” she said.
As demand grew, McGrath Barnes noticed that when KinderSmile would refer parents to other offices for continuity of care, they wouldn’t go. “They didn’t want to go to a doctor,” she said. “They wanted to stay with KinderSmile.”
Once again, McGrath-Barns met the demands of her community and opened up KinderSmile’s first permanent location in 2016 on 10 Broad Street in Bloomfield, NJ.
As a recent expansion, KinderSmile opened their second location on 101 North Broad Street at the beginning of this month. Since its opening, the new location has seen around 45 patients in need of free oral health care.
“We’ve had people walk off the street saying, ‘I needed a root canal for the last three years and a local dentist is charging me $1,500 to $2,000 and I really can’t afford it, how can you help us’,” said McGrath-Barnes. “We’ve been able to help those who are uninsured and underinsured.”
With this new Trenton location, KinderSmile is hoping to not only help those in need of oral health care, but also inform the community on oral disease prevention.
McGrath-Barnes said, “We want to teach the community how to fish as opposed to provide the fish, and therefore, we can help in eradicating the number one silent disease; oral disease.”