“As dental students, the opportunities to give back are endless but often underappreciated. But we have the power to reshape our communities.”

IN FEBRUARY, the College of Dental Medicine at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University will celebrate 12 years of its Give a Kid a Smile dental-outreach program, which in 2015 provided upward of $100,000 in services to more than 300 children and special-needs patients. The leaders of the pack: chapter coordinators Kelly Cundy and Adam Saltz, with whom Incisal Edge recently spoke about Give a Kid a Smile and the importance of dental students who recognize the imortance of giving back.

Incisal Edge: How did each of you get involved with Give a Kid a Smile?

Saltz: Having attended Nova Southeastern as an undergraduate as part of its dual-admission dental-medicine program, I got involved early. When I was in high school, my father, a general dentist, would host a similar outreach day for adults, so it was almost instinctual for me to seek out
Give a Kid a Smile.

Cundy: Giving back to my community is something my parents instilled in me at a young age. When I first came to Nova, I immediately connected with an older dental student, Keren Castellucci. She took me under her wing and opened my eyes to this amazing program. I fell in love with GKAS and knew I wanted to be an integral part of its success. During my third year, I became the event chair, and it’s been a fabulous ride ever since.

Incisal Edge: Footage of your events makes them seem like a total blast: costumes, entertainment, the works.

Cundy: This project makes dentistry fun. With a clown painting their faces, a cast of Disney characters, a balloon artist and a wonderful DJ, it helps put the children at ease. We’ve noticed that most children have such a great time that they come back year after year.

Saltz: Our GKAS isn’t another day at the office; it’s a 12-hour party. We want all of our participants and volunteers to feel totally immersed in their dental experience. So we creatively seek press coverage, contact and host local celebrities like the Miami Dolphins and their cheerleaders, reach out for donations and sponsorships, and prepare and decorate the event site.

Incisal Edge: How important is it for dental students to serve the communities in which they practice — not just kids, but at-risk groups more broadly?

Cundy: As dental students, the opportunities to give back are endless but often underappreciated. Post-recession, the number of dental visits is still in decline, but outreach programs like ours drive those numbers up. Dental students have the power to reshape the communities they treat from the bottom up, because they can call on larger school resources and support.

Saltz: In school we’re taught to individualize patient care, but in real-world practice, we have to step back to observe the overarching health issues in our communities. We’re a profession that serves the needs of the public, and those without access to care are unfairly marginalized. Efforts like Give Kids a Smile show the fighting strength and compassion of our field.

Kelly Cundy is a fourth-year dental student at Nova Southeastern who plans to further her education in pediatrics. Adam Saltz, a third-year dental student, is co-enrolled in Nova’s Master of Public Health program, which he expects to complete in 2016.