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School’s annual free clinic for kids promotes importance of early dental care6 min read

April 6, 2023

School’s annual free clinic for kids promotes importance of early dental care6 min read

School of Dentistry students and faculty who volunteered at the 2023 Give Kids a Smile Clinic gather afterwards for a group photo.

Ann Arbor, Mich., April 6, 2023 – The School of Dentistry drew more than 100 children and their families from around the Ann Arbor region to the annual “Give Kids a Smile” clinic on Saturday. The student-run community service clinic provides free dental exams, basic dental procedures and the opportunity to educate kids about the importance of brushing, flossing and going to the dentist regularly.

About 125 volunteer dental students, dental hygiene students, faculty and staff performed basic treatments, such as exams, cleanings, x-rays, fluoride and silver diamine applications, sealants, fillings and an occasional extraction for children ages 4-14. Any serious problems that were discovered were referred for further treatment.

Dental student Tommy Lau, a member of the organizing committee, said the number of children who attended was believed to be a record over the many years the school has hosted the event. The strong demand may be linked to increased need after the COVID-19 pandemic, when families often put dental appointments on hold and the Give Kids a Smile clinic was canceled in 2020 and 2021.

Third-year student Danjel Popaj examines 4-year-old Tyler Zhou as first-year student Samantha Dial assists.

The clinic, known as GKAS for short, is an important part of the dental students’ education. Treating children whose mouths are still growing, and whose teeth are still emerging, requires a different focus than treating adults. In addition, children are often uncomfortable or afraid of dentists and their instruments, so students have to try out different ways of coaxing the kids to relax, open wide and be treated. On Saturday, sometimes parents sat nearby, usually with younger children in the 4-6 age group, while older kids often braved the dental chair while their parents stayed in the waiting room. To ease the children’s hesitancy, the two clinics were decorated in a jungle theme with one student roaming the premises in a large pink flamingo costume and another in an elephant costume complete with a swinging trunk that was tugged countless times by the kids.

The important message students and faculty delivered to their young patients and their parents is that oral health is related to overall health, so kids need to learn early to brush, floss and visit their dentist regularly.

Diane Kim of Ann Arbor brought her 4-year-old son Miloh to the clinic and was pleased with how the visit went. “This was his first time at a dentist and everyone was so friendly that he felt comfortable,” she said. Students Samantha Sciancalepore and Amanda Guido, fourth-year and second-year, respectively, kept up a steady stream of friendly banter with Miloh as his mom stayed close and occasionally stepped in for reassurance. The students impressed him at the end of his appointment with dental supplies and a couple of small toys.

His dental exam finished, Miloh Kim, age 4, gives a tug on the beak of an inflatable flamingo that looks as though it is being ridden by second-year dental student Mollie Falchook. The flamingo costume was part of jungle-themed decorations students used to create fun and ease children’s apprehension about visiting the dental clinic.

Faculty member Dr. Rodney Vergotine, from the school’s pediatric dentistry program, said numerous children at the clinic were at their first dental visit and some had significant issues that called for additional dental appointments.  “The thing we notice is that parents don’t realize that children need to be seen as soon as possible,” he said. “We want to see them when their first tooth erupts so we can deal with education and prevention at that point. A large percentage of the kids have not seen a dentist for multiple years. The previous thought was to wait until age 3 when they can cooperate with the dentist, but that has changed. We want to see them earlier because decay starts earlier. If tooth-brushing and prevention is not done as soon as the tooth erupts, we end up with issues.”

In addition to Lau, a third-year student, others on the GKAS Executive Planning Committee were third-year student Mira Patel and second-year students Mollie Falchook and Jigar Patel. Dr. Larry Salzmann was the faculty mentor for the group.

To publicize the event, Lau said planners reached out to public schools, free clinics, and other local community groups. Among their efforts were matching bi-lingual student providers with families for whom English is a second language. Lau, who grew up in Ann Arbor, remembers attending GKAS when he was a child. “As a patient at the event in the past, GKAS has inspired me to become a health professional,” he said. “I’m grateful that this event has brought together faculty, staff, students and families from the community to have such a refreshing and meaningful morning.”

The “Give Kids a Smile” community service event was started nationally by the American Dental Association in 2003 and is supported locally by the Michigan Dental Association and the Washtenaw District Dental Society.

Abigail Riley, age 11, of Chelsea listens as fourth-year dental hygiene student Sumaia Al-Suraimi offers tips on the best way to brush with the new toothbrush that was among the parting gifts kids received after their exams.
As a member of the GKAS organizing committee, third-year dental student Tommy Lau drew the assignment of wearing the inflatable elephant costume to go along with the event’s jungle theme. He was also on the organizing committee last year, when he spent his time at that clinic in a Buzz Lightyear costume for its outer space theme.


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at, or (734) 615-1971.