Winter Storm Mars left nearly 250 Suffolk County children uncared for after snow storm warnings cancelled a free dental treatment event organized by the Stony Brook Dental School.
The annual event was scheduled to take place on “Give Kids a Smile” Day and aimed to provide children up to 17 years old with free dental services including screenings, cleaning and fluoride treatments that help fight tooth decay.
The event is accessible to anyone who registers, but the dental school’s goal is to help children who lack sufficient medical insurance to cover the cost of dental treatments according to Margaret Bakos, the Director of Community Outreach. The event is also designed to teach children about oral hygiene and provide parents with their child’s dental summary, a referral list of dentists and information about dental insurance.
“I think it’s terribly disappointing,” Michael Forbes, a father of two who attended last year’s event after seeking out a program that could help treat his uninsured seven-year-old son, said. “That’s a lot of people who could very well be shit out of luck because there aren’t many programs like this out there.”
The “Give Kids a Smile” Day event was not rescheduled because it would interfere with the schedules of nearly 80 dental students who volunteered, Bakos said.
The event is advertised to the public through churches, outreach programs, food pantries and local newspapers on Long Island. However, the dental school’s most direct way of promoting the event is by working closely with school districts, like Riverhead and Longwood, that have a larger number of financially vulnerable people, said Mary Truhlar, Interim Dean at the School of Dental Medicine.
“We have a constant presence in these school districts in the fall and spring so people become well aware about what Stony Brook does,” Truhlar said. “The school nurses and administrators are also very helpful in identifying children that may need [dental] services.”
The Stony Brook Dental School has been involved with “Give Kids a Smile” Day since it was launched by the American Dental Association in 2003.
“Give Kids a Smile” Day happens nationwide in February, but Stony Brook University breaks away from the national norm because they provide urgent dental care for children who need to be treated quickly, Rhona Sherwin, a Clinical Associate Professor at the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, said.
On the day of the event, dental students volunteer to help screen the children, keep them entertained and provide dental care, Sherwin said. Third and second year dental students are paired together, and the second year students assist with keeping the dental record and marking their findings. Patients in need of emergency attention are treated by pediatric dental residents.
“It’s important for us as future dentists to learn how to deal children in the dental setting and to be aware of common issues encountered in the pediatric population,” Jamila Balooch, a second year dental student who has participated in the event, said.
Henry Schein, one of the largest dental suppliers in the nation, and Colgate provide donations of supplies necessary to perform dental treatments and toothpastes and brushes to give out to children at the event, respectively. The dental school also has a preventive grant from the state that allows them to allocate money to pay for supplies that are not donated.
“Fortunately, it’s usually a small amount of supplies that aren’t already covered,” Bakos said.
The dental supplies that were not used due to the cancellation of the event, like fluoride, have a long enough shelf life to be used in a future event.
Parents who were planning on attending the event were advised to take their children to the dental school’s clinic or given help in finding another location that could provide them with aid, Truhlar said. However, unlike dental treatment at “Give Kids a Smile” Day, these other services are not free.
“We get some funding from Delta Dental to give children urgent care on a need demonstrated basis,” Truhlar said. “However, this does not mean that the dental clinic can provide everyone with free dental care because events [like Give Kids a Smile” Day] are very reliant on outside supporters and donations.”
Yehuda Marciano, a second year resident at the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, who has worked on emergency cases at past events, thinks the dental school’s work with children goes beyond money. He said it makes children comfortable with the dentist.
“We get a bad rep,” said Marciano. “It’s a good feeling when children are able to have a pleasant experience on their first visit to the dentist at events like these.”
Although “Give Kids a Smile” Day was unable to proceed due to the inclement weather, a free dental care opportunity will happen in August, providing kids with free dental treatments before they head back to school.