Nearly 50 children receive dental care thanks to Give Kids a Smile
BEMIDJI -- Nearly 50 children were able to get dental screenings recently thanks to a volunteer program at Northwest Technical College.
On Feb. 7, a total of 18 volunteers, including seven dentists, participated in the annual Give Kids a Smile program at the NTC campus in Bemidji. The community-based program was originally launched by the American Dental Association in 2003.
Since it started, more than 5.5 million underserved children have received free oral health services. Those services have been provided by 7,000 dentists and another 30,000 volunteers helping the program.
According to Julie Dokken, NTC Dental Assisting Program director and faculty member, the Bemidji campus started hosting Give Kids a Smile within the same year the ADA started.
"We got involved, as a group effort with many of the dentists involved in the Minnesota Dental Association," Dokken said. "Many of the dentists in the area are very active with the MDA, so when the ADA came out with this idea, dentists with the MDA took the ball and ran with it."
In the years after it started, Dokken said the program locally was serving more than 100 children annually.
"We had, at the time, a very large population not seen for dental care, a very underserved population," Dokken said. "We live around some of the poorest counties in the state, and a lot of people were going with their needs unmet. So, it was a way to see children on a basis with no questions asked, and provide preventative care."
At the national level, according to the ADA's website, there were 1,432 Give Kids a Smile events, where 347,372 children benefited.
Locally, though, the number of children going to Give Kids a Smile has decreased, largely thanks to the work done at the Northern Dental Access Center. The non-profit community clinic has been providing care to those with low incomes and/or are on medical assistance since 2008.
In 2018, the NDAC served more than 26,000 patients in Bemidji and in 2019, the non-profit opened another clinic in Halstad, Minn.
"Each year, we're seeing less and less kids at Give Kids a Smile and I felt part of the reason is the impact Northern Dental Access has had on our community, which is a very positive thing," Dokken said. "There are less and less people today who don't have a dental home."