USC University of Southern California

School of Dentistry Celebrates Give Kids a Smile Day

The USC School of Dentistry Neighborhood Mobile Clinic rolled into Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on Give Kids a Smile Day, Friday, February 6, 2009.  The clinic provided free classroom instruction, oral screenings, protective sealants and referrals for further care to more than 800 students.


Give Kids a Smile Day is the American Dental Association’s annual program to increase awareness of and expand access to children’s oral health care. This is the seventh year of the program, which seeks to address the ongoing challenges that low-income and disabled children face in accessing dental care.

Armed with colorful puppets, oversized toothbrushes and dental knowledge, School of Dentistry students taught kids the ABCs of oral health and hygiene. After their oral screenings, the children received a free book courtesy of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation and met the Tooth Fairy and her friend, the Molar.

Children found to have serious dental problems also received referrals to visit dentists in the community as well as the USC School of Dentistry Pediatric Clinic. Schoolchildren referred to USC will have a portion of their treatment paid for by the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

The event draws much-needed attention to the importance of good oral health in a child’s life, especially the kids in disadvantaged or underserved populations, said Roseann Mulligan, associate dean for Community Health Programs with the School of Dentistry.

“This day is important for us as our state considers cuts to the programs that protect these children,” Mulligan said. “Today we’re seeing first hand the seriousness of the problem as we look inside the mouths of these kids and see rampant decay. We need to make good oral health a priority for all children in California and educate policymakers and parents that good oral health is integral to overall health.”

Ben Karren, a first year pediatric dentistry resident who conducted oral health screenings throughout Give Kids a Smile Day, mentioned the many children that were excited and enthusiastic for the oral health instruction and checkups and said that even the kids who were initially nervous warmed up to the dental students and residents and had a fun, educational time. 

“This is a good gradual introduction to visiting a dentist,” Karren said. “They have the safety and comfort of their school but also have their foot inside a dental office, so to speak.”

Mike Davis, 48th District Assemblyman, visited the school to observe the screenings and oral health education and praised the School of Dentistry’s initiative in helping kids have healthy mouths.

“I am proud to join USC School of Dentistry in support of the effort to create oral health for the children in our community,” Davis said. “I am glad the state Department of Health Services also gives grants for these important services to be provided to young people. Each child will be a better student as a result of having excellent oral and dental care.”

The oral health care that the children receive for Give Kids a Smile Day will help students to not only have healthy smiles, but also give kids a better chance to learn and succeed, said Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary Principal David Bell.

“I am privileged to work with some of the most capable and talented elementary students in Los Angeles Unified School District,” Bell said. “The only thing many of them lack is an equal opportunity to resources that are routine in more affluent communities.

By providing free oral screenings, sealants and classroom instruction, the USC School of Dentistry Mobile Clinic is involved in actions which will positively affect King students’ esteem and success in school.

Bell explained that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that life’s most urgent question is “What are you doing for others?’’ By their actions, the USC School of Dentistry Mobile Clinic Program volunteers have demonstrated their response: Giving Kids a Smile!”