Event aims to ‘Give Kids a Smile’

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Dr. Katherine Jowers, of the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Center in Spruce Pine, performs a dental cleaning on 7-year-old Zaiden Landan Friday, Feb. 7, at the annual “Give Kids a Smile” event as ECU dental student Caitlin Ferguson looks on. This year’s “Give Kids a Smile” event provided free exams, cleanings and X-rays to more than 40 area children. (MNJ/Cory Spiers)

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SPRUCE PINE – Area first- and second-graders had free dental work performed Friday, Feb. 7, at the East Carolina University Dental Community Service Learning Center in Spruce Pine. 

The learning center’s services were part of their involvement in the nationwide “Give Kids a Smile” initiative – a 16-year-old partnership between the American Dental Association and dental vendors that gives children complementary comprehensive dental exams, cleanings, treatment plans and X-rays.

The Service Learning Center Business Services Coordinator Gene Self said children who are not covered by dental insurance or have never visited a dentist were the target audience. Still, all first- and second-grade students were welcome.

“Our goal is that no child in our community is without care for their teeth,” Self said.

This year marked the second time the center has had the event in its office on the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital campus rather than bringing the services into local schools. Self said having the event in the office allows hygienists and dental assistants to perform a broader range of services and more tools.

Of the eight ECU Community Service Learning Centers in the state, the Spruce Pine center sees the most pediatric patients.

Assistant Director of the Service Learning Center Katherine Jowers said Give Kids a Smile day is the staff’s favorite time of the year.

This year’s event featured a Cat in the Hat costume theme, which Jowers said helps patients be less nervous during the dental procedures. 

“The clinic prepares for the event for weeks,” Jowers said. “It’s a party atmosphere. It is fun for us and for the kids that might otherwise be nervous visiting a dental clinic for the first time.”

The local clinical staff is ECU dental students who are completing their dental training while experiencing the role of dentists in a rural community. Each year, some graduated students from the Learning Center return to help with the event.

The vision of the local ECU dental program and its Community Service Learning Centers is to train dentists who will return to rural communities in the state to practice after graduation.

Self said the day went smoothly and added the Service Learning Center looks forward to continuing its participation in the event next year.

“We want our students and residents to learn and our staff and faculty to provide excellent care and compassion to our patients,” Self said. “We want to make an impact on our community through our service to them.”