Looking for ways to increase access to care? Consider GKAS

The ADA’s Give Kids A Smile program has been my gateway into public health as well as an avenue to leadership within the ADA. Like many others, I first learned about GKAS during dental school, where the event was held annually.

Dr. Smeenge

It was a fun-filled day of free pediatric dentistry, identifying and addressing treatment needs for children who otherwise were not receiving care. As a University of Michigan dental student, it gave me a chance to learn more about pediatrics, while giving back to the community. During my D2, D3, and D4 years, I joined the dental school leadership team to help plan the event. Then as a pediatric resident, I oversaw patient care and enjoyed teaching the dental students.

In 2015, as a D3 student, I had the opportunity to attend the ADA’s GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute. Selected GKAS program coordinators from across the U.S. shared their experiences, learned from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and ended the program by participating in the St Louis GKAS clinic event — the one that started it all.

Dr. Jeff Dalin and his team are truly inspirational, educating and treating hundreds of children who otherwise would not get dental care due to a variety of health disparities. In 2017, I had the opportunity to join other GKAS Ambassadors in Chicago at the ADA headquarters to once again join forces and find creative solutions to barriers to care and challenges to running a GKAS program.

This led to the opportunity to become the new dentist representative on the ADA’s GKAS National Advisory Committee. Through this position, I am able to share my perspective as a recent graduate and as a pediatric specialist.  We develop promotional campaigns and problem solve at the national level. I am grateful to be part of an amazing group of people, who all share a passion for helping children establish a dental home and for equipping general dentists with the knowledge and resources to comfortably screen and treat children.

Some of you may have experience with leadership positions in undergrad or even in dental school, but once you graduate, it can feel like there is so much on your plate, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Can, or rather, should, you add one more thing?

Being on the ADA’s GKAS National Advisory Committee easily fits into my schedule. It gives me a chance to hear other perspectives across the country, and to make a difference at a national level. As someone just starting my career, I appreciate being able to learn from people who have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

I highly recommend getting involved at some level, whether that is as a state dental association representative or within one of the many ADA councils or committees. Not only will you be making sure that new voices are being heard, but you will also learn a valuable perspective on how organized dentistry operates. It can feel overwhelming, trying to tackle access to care issues on your own, but organized dentistry allows individuals to come together and make a greater impact.

Most recently, I have been working on Tiny Smiles, a subset of GKAS focused on establishing a dental home for children under age 5. The recommendation for a child’s first dental visit is age 1, due to the increased incidence in caries at a younger age.

However, many dentists may feel ill-equipped to complete a knee-to-knee exam or address active carious lesions on such young patients. We are creating continuing education opportunities to increase comfort levels on this topic. Connecting with your neighborhood pediatricians and getting a child in the door for an exam is the first step. You can then educate parents on hygiene and diet recommendations. If they have treatment needs: refer! Parents who feel comfortable with you for their young child, will recommend you to their friends and family members, it’s a great patient builder!

If you have any questions about GKAS, Tiny Smiles, or getting involved in the ADA at a national level, please don’t hesitate to ask! Information on GKAS and Tiny Smiles can be found on ADA.org/GKAS.

Dr. Betsey Baumann-Smeenge is a pediatric dentist at a Federally Qualified Health Center in White Cloud, Michigan. She earned her dental degree and her masters in pediatric dentistry from the University of Michigan. She is the “New Dentist” representative on the ADA’s Give Kids A Smile National Advisory Committee and is a GKAS Ambassador. She is passionate about making dental care accessible for all children. Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments: [email protected]