By Michelle Eigenheer–
“Boy, if there was ever a community effort to do something, this is it,” expressed Dr. Guy Furnish as he rushed to deliver equipment to awaiting dental students.
Dr. Furnish, the University of Louisville Director of Undergraduate Pediatric Dentistry, and Dr. Ann Greenwell, Director of Postdoctoral Pediatric Dentistry, are in charge of Smile Kentucky – a program that provides free dental care to elementary students in Louisville Metro and surrounding counties.
Smile Kentucky celebrated its 10th anniversary on February 3, 2012. This day marked 10 years of service with 3,000 children served and over $1 million worth of free dental care.
The event itself always falls on the first Friday in February, National Give Kids a Smile Day.
In 2002 several Louisville organizations including: the Louisville Dental Society, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness, the Louisville Water Company, the University of Louisville School of Dentistry and numerous private practitioners decided that there was much more that they could do for the dental health of Kentucky’s youth.
Dr. Furnish remembers a meeting in which Dr. Berry Ceridan expressed, “You have all these people screened and everyone feels good about it, but it’s the work after they get screened that’s really important.” Outstanding agreement from the community formed the foundation of Smile Kentucky.
To be eligible for free dental care, students between third and fifth grade receive permission from their parents to be screened at their schools for dental problems. The numerous private practitioners who go to schools and give dental health presentations provide this screening service.
After this, students are categorized by their level of need. Those in need of dental attention form the top of the list —those with limited access to care usually become the most critical cases. Paperwork is sent home with these students and it is up to the parents to grant permission. “All they had to do was fill out a medical history and sign on the dotted line,” stressed Furnish.
Individual elementary schools take students to the U of L School of Dentistry by buses on the day of treatment. “It’s great because kids that can’t afford dental care, they can come here and get it for free. So, we try to do as much as we can today, and they can actually come back again on the 17th of February for stuff that we don’t necessarily get done today, and they get it for free then, too,” explained fourth-year dental student, Emily Rockne.
“Since the program began, over 127,000 students in 143 schools and 11 counties have received classroom dental education programs,” stated a press release from the program. These dental education programs, according to Furnish, are the most important part of the entire program. “We’ll educate 17,000 kids [per year] with a presentation on oral health,” emphasized Furnish as he communicated the importance of promoting the dental IQ of children in our society.
Photos: Kassie Roberts/The Louisville Cardinal