Students at the University of Maryland Dental School are learning firsthand how educating local communities is the best strategy for fighting America's single most common chronic childhood disease, tooth decay.
For the fourth straight year, Dental School students participated in the annual "Give Kids a Smile" event at the Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, on the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland. Forty-five Dental School students met with third-grade students from George Washington Elementary School on Feb. 4 to teach them about dental care and provide free dental screenings.
"Teaching children at this age is the perfect time because they absorb everything you say. It is the perfect time to get them excited about brushing, flossing, and taking care of their teeth," said coordinator Gina Joshua, a third-year dental student and president of the School's chapter of the Maryland Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. The students hoped to stimulate awareness of the importance of oral hygiene, proper nutrition, and abstinence from tobacco products.
Faculty sponsor Vineet Dhar, BDS, MDS, PhD, clinical instructor, said community outreach such as Give Kids a Smile "builds in [the dental students'] minds a connection of providing service to society. It widens their horizons. They learn that their duties are not just to their practices."
Greeting the children at the museum was Gen. George Washington in uniform, played by second-year dental student Norman Wang. "I never took good care of my teeth, so I have to wear dentures. You are here to learn good dental hygiene so you don't end up like me." Wang led the children in a pledge to promise to brush daily and visit the dentist frequently.
Brett Kingma, a second-year student, said working with the children is one reason he loves attending the Dental School. On the School's curriculum overall, he added, "I love attending the Dental School; wouldn't want to be anywhere else. It's tough, but worth it."
Escorting the students was Marc LaVeau, community school coordinator from the YMCA of Central Maryland.
"This event teaches children the right way to care for their teeth in a way that they won't learn elsewhere." LaVeau explained. "What the University has done is to form an excellent Outreach Council in collaboration with us. This has led to great things such as this event and the Community Partner Art Expo, which is a silent auction to raise money for the CLUB UMD after-school mentoring and youth leadership program."
CLUB UMD uses University faculty, staff, and students to provide youth with exposure to careers in health, law, and human services. The University also has offered classroom support and programming through USGA groups. The University works with three levels of grade schools in close proximity: the George Washington Elementary School, the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, and the Southwest Baltimore Charter School.