More than 60 student and faculty volunteers provided free dental services to children at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s annual “Give Kids a Smile” event on Saturday.
The event — which administers free dental cleanings, oral examinations, and referrals — is part of the national “Give Kids a Smile” initiative that aims to increase accessibility to dental care.
Dental School students Ziwei Chen, Kadriye E. Hargett, and Jessica K. Murphree helped organize the event.
Chen, Hargett, and Murphree said organizers had to think of new ways to provide the same services while complying with the state’s social distancing guidelines due to the pandemic.
In previous years, Chen said the clinic hosted between 40 to 50 patients to come and receive free oral consultations and diagnoses.
This year, however, the number of patients permitted to receive in-person treatment was capped at 24. Patients signed up for their consultation online beforehand.
Families who were unable to receive in-person appointments during the event were given virtual consultations and follow-up care in person at a later date.
Chen said the virtual consultations allowed students and faculty to better understand the patient and ensure efficiency during the follow-up appointments.
“That saves time and saves the patients a lot of trouble coming in and out of the clinic, especially during Covid,” Chen said.
She added that patients who come in for follow-up appointments after virtual consultation will not be charged for their services.
The educational component of the event had to be shifted to a virtual format entirely.
In previous years, first-year and second-year dental students gave in-person presentations to families about oral health, dental hygiene and diet, proper brushing and flossing methods, and the importance of frequent dental appointments.
This year, Chen said dental students filmed videos of themselves explaining these concepts and sent them to the patients and their families to watch at home.
Families who had regularly attended the annual “Give Kids a Smile” event in years past were initially disappointed with its new virtual format, according to Hargett.
“This was a tradition they felt like they were missing out on, and they were just upset that they couldn't be one of those 24 in-person appointments,” Hargett said. “But thankfully, we were able to reassure them that they're going to be able to come in for a follow-up appointment.”
Murphree noted that the virtual appointments guaranteed access to families who live farther away from the clinic and accommodated patients who have hesitations about seeing a dentist in-person.
“We're also hoping that this will become more commonplace and that we'll do this year-to-year if there are people who can't come in or don't want to come in right away,” Murphree said.
Faculty dentists and students will follow up with patients who received treatment or consultations during the event. The organizers also plan to compile resources detailing where patients can be treated on a more regular basis based on their insurance plans.
“I personally really want Give Kids a Smile to be a starting point to a lifelong journey of having great oral health,” Chen said. “We just want to empower our patients to have all the right tools or resources to start that journey.”
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