A small dental office sees a flurry of commotion as assistants and doctors run through the halls trying to help everyone they can. The front desk seats patients who aren’t much older than 12 years old as the office calls all hands on deck to help with KinderSmile’s “Give Kids A Smile Day.”
Give Kids A Smile began in 2002 in St. Louis, Missouri, celebrated nationally on the first Friday in February. “In St. Louis, a general dentist decided to open up his office and provide free dental services to the low-income marginalized community. Then, the dental profession made it a national holiday for us,” said Dr. Nicole McGrath-Barnes, Founder of KinderSmile.
The day, which stretches through the entire week, commenced this year on February 4 and ends on February 11, 2022. “So we get balloons, we have coloring, we do oral education and our whole educational room. Then the children go to the toothbrush station to reinforce proper brushing, and then they sit in the chair, and they receive free cleanings, exams, X-rays, even extractions and fillings and sealants,” Dr. McGrath-Barnes said.
KinderSmile has different ways of teaching young Trentonians about dental hygiene. “We always celebrate Give Kids a Smile Day and make it very festive with oral education, arts and crafts, and balloons. We want to invite the kids not only to learn about oral disease prevention but to receive dental services in a fun way knowing that we’re here to help them and not to harm them,” Dr. McGrath-Barnes said.
This is the second year of running the initiative in Trenton. It allows kids up to age 13 the opportunity to get free dental exams, dental cleaning, and fluoride to prevent cavities. Melissa Blystone, Front Desk Patient Coordinator, who has been with this office since its opening in the fall of 2020, explained that they want to help.
“Dr. Nicole just wanted the underprivileged children to get services that they deserve, you know,” Blystone said. Patients who come into dental exams on the day don’t have to worry about insurance because KinderSmile receives thier income through grants. “It’s a good thing that we’re here… because these kids, some of them, have never been to a cleaning before.”
Their mission in Trenton is to create an area for the community to come and get low-cost dental care and improve the quality of dental care in the area. “Over the past 15 years, KinderSmile Foundation has provided more than $9 million of in-kind dental services and impacted over 35,000 underserved patients in New Jersey and abroad, to eliminate dental disease, the #1 epidemic of economically disadvantaged children,” KinderSmile wrote in their Annual Report Booklet for 2021.
“We make sure that everyone who walks in, whether you’re uninsured or state worker, you want to walk into a facility where you are dignified and treated like a human being while getting quality services and we focus on ,intervention and prevention because we want them to come back every six months but with no cavities,” said Dr. McGrath-Barnes.
Dr. Steven Vassell, Chief Dental Provider, said he tries everything in his power to make people comfortable. “Most of the times the children that do come in here or uninsured and first time seeing a dentist, most times they’re scared, most times they’re here because they’re in pain. So they probably have an abscess and infection somewhere. My goal is to try to help them take them out of pain but also reduce their stress of being in an environment that everybody views as stress stressful,” Dr. Vassell said.
Within the city of Trenton, KinderSmile sees both Adults and Children helping Trentonians with dental care. Dr. McGrath-Barnes said that she would not want it any other way. “I love it. When I’m in Trenton, I know that this is my purpose and passion. I love my community here. I love the little ones to the seniors. I love it, and I love the fact that they love that we’re here, and they’re so appreciative,” Dr.McGrath-Barnes said.