Looking for ways to increase access to care? Consider GKAS

The ADA’s Give Kids A Smile program is my gateway to public health and a pathway to leadership within the ADA. Like many others, I first got to know GKAS during dental school, where the event was held annually.

dr. smeenge

It was a fun day of free pediatric dentistry, identifying and addressing the treatment needs of children who would otherwise not receive care. As a dentistry student at the University of Michigan, it gave me the opportunity 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. After that, 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 US shared their experiences, learned from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and ended the program by attending the St. Louis GKAS Clinic Event – the event that started it all.

dr. Jeff Dalin and his team are truly inspiring, teaching and treating hundreds of children who would otherwise not receive dental care due to a variety of health inequalities. In 2017, I had the opportunity to work with other GKAS ambassadors in Chicago at the ADA headquarters to once again join forces and find creative solutions to barriers to care and challenges in running a GKAS program.

This led to the opportunity to become the new dental representative on the ADA’s GKAS National Advisory Committee. This position allows me to share my perspective as a recent graduate and as a pediatrician. We develop promotional campaigns and solve problems at national level. I am grateful to be part of an amazing group of people, all of whom share a passion for helping children set up 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 in leadership positions in a bachelor’s degree or even in dentistry, but once you graduate, it can feel like you have so much on your plate, especially amid a pandemic. Is there anything else you can do, or rather should you add?

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

I highly recommend getting involved at some level, whether that be as a representative of the State Dental Association or on one of the many ADA boards or committees. Not only will you ensure new voices are heard, but you’ll also learn a valuable perspective on how organized dentistry works. It can be overwhelming to tackle access to care alone, but organized dentistry allows individuals to come together and make a bigger impact.

Most recently I worked on Tiny Smiles, a subgroup of GKAS aimed at setting up a dental home for children under 5 years old. The recommendation for a child’s first dental visit is 1 year because of the increased incidence of caries at a younger age.

However, many dentists may feel ill-equipped to perform a knee-to-knee exam or to deal with active carious lesions in such young patients. We create continuing education opportunities to increase comfort level on this topic. Connecting with your neighborhood pediatricians and getting a child to the door for an exam is the first step. You can then inform parents about hygiene and dietary recommendations. If they need treatment: refer! Parents who are comfortable with you for their young child will recommend you to their friends and relatives, it’s a great patient builder!

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

dr. Betsey Baumann-Smeenge is a pediatric dentist at a federally qualified health center in White Cloud, Michigan. She received her dental degree and her master’s degree 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. Her passion is making dental care accessible to all children. Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments: betseyb@umich.edu

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