Between 2012 and 2020, about 400 underserved children have received free oral health care from the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist Clinic. Occurring every first Friday in February, this “Give Kids a Smile” event, also known as GKAS, has amounted to an estimated $106,000 in services. GKAS is an opportunity offered to the children in the CNMI community who do not have Medicaid or other dental insurance to receive recommended oral health services including dental exams, extractions, fillings and fluoride treatment.
Located in the U.S. territory of the Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the clinic’s GKAS event is part of the nationwide “Give Kids a Smile” program that the American Dental Association has conducted since 2002. This year, the Saipan SDA Clinic will mark its 50th year of serving the CNMI community and is kicking off the celebration with GKAS making the commemoration even more eventful and meaningful.
Planning a GKAS event during the COVID-19 pandemic required greater creativity. Nevertheless, the SDA Clinic moved forward with plans for 2022 GKAS activities in hopes of continuing to address the needs of children who require dental health services now more than ever.
The morning of February 4th brought the clinic’s team of volunteers to an educational event which took place at four schools on Saipan: Da’Ok Academy (9th-12th grades), GTC Elementary School (5th grade), Tanapay Middle School (6th grade), and Saipan SDA Elementary School (1st-8th grades) which includes a daycare. Dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants and the dental lab technician provided oral health lectures and demonstrations. With slideshow presentations, videos, songs, tooth mascots and study models, the two-hundred sixty students were interested, engaged and interactive. Valuable information, including oral cancer, was shared and the students were captivated. “I had fun learning to brush,” according to a Grade 3 pupil. “Overall, I strongly agree that oral hygiene is very important for the body,” an eighth-grader responded.
Since the educational event took place in school settings, there were no other health services provided. However, participants each received goody bags that contained child-sized toothbrushes, dental floss, and oral health education cards. Winners of the question-and-answer portion also received the clinic’s custom-made face masks.
The dental health professionals who participated in the “Give Kids a Smile” event had an opportunity to also encourage the young learners to develop health behavior management. In a survey conducted after the health lectures, most of the children strongly agreed that the topic presented was important and signified they will be able to apply the knowledge learned. “I found oral hygiene education to be one of the most effective ways to help communities,” said Dr. Jonathan Min, one of the dentists. “Although we cannot see direct results right away, good oral hygiene will prevent so many dental problems in the future. Good education is the ultimate key to improving oral health in our community,” Dr. Min concluded.
“It is rewarding to help improve a child’s view on dental health,” said Jocelyn Sonsona, Saipan SDA Clinic office manager. “The reward is even greater when kids are inspired to take good care of their teeth and even take time to write their positive impressions,” she added. In the evaluation questionnaires, children wrote, “Thank you for teaching us how to brush and floss”, “… for making time to do this”, and “From now on I will brush my teeth the way Dr. Lee said to”.
Catching a glimpse of a child’s radiant smile gives us great reason to keep GKAS an ongoing and expanding outreach program in spite of the pandemic. “Give Kids a Smile” is changing lives in a meaningful way, one smile at a time.