Volunteer program provides dental care to underprivileged children in Utah County

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Two volunteer dental hygienists clean a child’s teeth during the Give Kids A Smile event last year. The program will run this year through the end of March. (Give Kids A Smile)

The Give Kids A Smile program is providing underprivileged children in Utah County with free oral care for the next few weeks.

Give Kids A Smile is a nationwide program sponsored by the American Dental Association. Utah County’s program is usually a single-day event on the last day of February, but the program has been altered this year so it can still run during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients will receive the same level of care, but it will be given at dental offices throughout Utah County during the months of February and March.

The program is supported through donations and run by volunteers. The dentists donate their time, and supplies are donated by Henry Schein, a worldwide dental and medical supplies distributor.

Salt Lake Community College, the UVU Dental Hygiene Clinic and The Dental Center in Orem have all volunteered to help create treatment plans. A large majority of volunteers this year are pre-dental BYU students.

“We want to emphasize that the whole weight of this event has been carried by our volunteers and by the donated services, so it is amazing to see how the community does pull together,” said Sarah Hamilton, Give Kids a Smile dental program manager.

Some of the dental offices participating are Canyon Dental Clinic, Cascade Family Dental, Orem Pediatric Dentistry and Dodge Family Dentistry. Children will be sent to dental offices based on location and appointment availability. COVID-19 regulations that have already been established at individual practices will be followed.

“People can know that there are resources for them,” said Give Kids A Smile volunteer Harrison Dresser. “People want to help; they don’t have to feel like they are on their own.”

Children can receive routine dental cleaning and exams through the end of March. More involved treatments can be scheduled anytime from March through July. The dentists provide teeth cleanings, X-rays, fillings, root canals and extractions. Bigger treatments will be performed by a volunteer oral surgeon.

The program usually goes through schools to find lower-income families with children in need of oral care. Parents and students can also reach out to a school nurse for help or reach out directly to local Give Kids A Smile managers Hamilton and Nathaly Vasquez.

“(With) COVID it has been a whole different event from past years, so we are really grateful this year to have volunteers and people spreading the word. That is how people get connected and can have care,” Vasquez said.

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