Illinois Dentists Give a Smile to Children in Need

The Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) Program was launched nationally in 2003 by the American Dental Association. Every year, over 6,000 dentists and 30,000 dental team members volunteer at GKAS events to provide free oral health education, screenings, and preventative and restorative treatment to over 300,000 children. GKAS events are held nationally throughout the year, including all across Illinois. The first Friday in February, known as Give Kids a Smile Day, kicks off the program each year. 

The Give Kids a Smile name was first used by the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. A group of dentists set up a temporary full-service clinic that treated nearly 400 children over two days in February 2002. The program was coordinated through ADA going forward. 

February is also National Children’s Dental Health Month. Nineteen years ago, the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Dentistry held its first Give Kids a Smile Day event. The Department of Pediatric Dentistry is the largest Medicaid provider of pediatric oral health care services in Illinois. In 2022, the Department had more than 20,000 patient visits. For those without access to care, community outreach provides a way for children to receive necessary diagnostics, preventive, and restorative care. 

The Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville School of Dental Medicine holds an annual Give Kids a Smile Day, offering free comprehensive dental care to over 100 children. The care provided ranges from exams, x-rays, cleanings, stainless steel crowns, fillings, and extractions. All services are provided by SIU SDM faculty, students, staff, and volunteer dental professionals. 

Every year, the DuPage County Health Department joins the ADA to observe Give Kids a Smile Day. Dentists offer free dental screenings to school-aged children. Over the last eight years, the health department has provided over 2,400 free dental procedures to 660 DuPage County children. This year’s Give Kids a Smile Day is set for Friday, March 1, 2024 

The first Give Kids a Smile Day in Quincy was held in 2007, and the project continued through 2020. Since then, the delivery format has changed to children being cared for on different days throughout the year. The latest figures from 2020 showed that over 2,000 children were provided with nearly $900,000 in free dental care in Quincy over the years. 

The SIU-Carbondale Dental Hygiene Program also holds an annual Give Kids a Smile Day in Carbondale. The latest event in 2023 saw 75 children receive a full range of dental services. Past years have seen more than 200 children receive services. This year’s event is scheduled for Friday, March 1, 2024. Children ages infant to 15 who do not have access to regular dental care are eligible. Services include cleanings, x-rays, sealants, and fluoride treatments. 

Century Dental of Huntley has participated in the Give Kids a Smile Day every year since 2007. Every February, the facility is closed to the public for a day so that it can provide complimentary dental services to children of low-income families. All children receive a dental exam, x-rays, cleaning, fluoride treatment, oral hygiene instruction, and nutritional counseling. 

The Give Kids a Smile Program has been instrumental in improving a child’s future by giving them access to oral health care. Going forward, the ADA is thinking about how the GKAS program can inspire future programs to help others in need. New initiatives, including a Give Veterans a Smile program, are being researched and considered.