A group of smiling children for Give Kids A Smile program

Help Give Kids A Smile In 2023

Helping people achieve the smile of their dreams remains one of the most rewarding aspects of dentistry.

Smiles are important. It’s what we use to express happiness, greet others, and show our best side. So, it’s disheartening when some people lack access to the care needed for a healthy, confident smile.

And, that’s exactly why the American Dental Association created and runs the Give Kids A Smile program

The Give Kids a Smile program (GKAS) is designed to help provide underserved kids with free dental care. It’s a noble cause, especially considering children how often laugh, smile, and interact with the world.

So, how can you give back to your community, and join the Give Kids A Smile program?

Let’s take a look.

The history and goals of Give Kids a Smile

Beginning in 2003, the Give Kids A Smile program, exploded in popularity ever since.

Now, 6,500 dentists participate in the program annually, along with the help of 30,000 other team members. The event begins on the first Friday of February, with events continuing at various times throughout the year. 

The first GKAS event was hosted by doctors Jeff Dalin and B. Ray Storm. At the time, they worked in a dental clinic slated for demolition in St. Louis, and treated nearly 400 children for free.

The American Dental Association heard their story, fell in love with the idea, and tried to recreate similar events on a national scale. Since then, more dentists across the country have become involved – and you can too.

Getting involved

If you’re looking for a way to participate in Give Kids A Smile, numerous options exist.

First, if you’d like to match with GKAS events in your area, you can email gkas@ada.org to get started – just include your city & state, and they’ll help walk you through the rest. 

However, if you’d like to create your own event to help kids in need, you can do that, too!

You’ll need to follow a few steps in the process, but if you do, you’ll create an amazing difference in the lives of the people around you.

Let’s break it down.

Create a team

Creating a successful GKAS event can seem like a daunting task. After all, it takes more than solid dental work to create an effective program.

First, you’ll need people with various skill sets who understand the task at hand, and willing to work together.

For instance, you’ll need to market the event, which may involve speaking to various media channels. And, you’ll need people available to help physically bring families & children to the event.

Of course, every event varies, and you may or may not need help with some tasks.

But, no matter what event you decide to create, a few basic positions exist in a typical Give Kids A Smile event.

For example:

  • General Chairperson: Oversees meetings, program development, budget, record keeping, and reviews the state dental practice act.

  • Program Chairperson: Oversees development and implementation of program activities.

  • Budget Chairperson: Manages the promotion budget.

  • Arrangements Chairperson: Secures space for the type of access event being planned, audiovisual equipment, microphones and refreshments.

  • Publicity Coordinator: Arranges for media coverage of access-to-care events by writing and sending press releases & feature articles; secures media placements for the media spokesperson.

  • Media Spokesperson: Provides interviews to local newspapers, television and radio stations about your group’s event.

  • Recruitment Chairperson: Secures and organizes volunteer support.

Obviously, you can modify positions as needed, but consider them a baseline when getting started. 

Consider your event options: education, screening, and/or treatment event

Once your team is ready to go, you’ll need to decide your approach on which style of event you’ll hold.

For example:

  • Educational event:

    Improving smiles doesn’t always require physical procedures. You can make a major difference just by teaching children proper hygiene & care.

    For instance, you can deliver presentations to young children in local schools. Oral hygiene, diet, and dental health all make great topics for various age levels.

  • Screening event

    Though screening events can require a little more work, they’re pretty straightforward to plan. Decide upon the demographic you want to screen and then decide how to approach it.

    For instance, you could perform visual oral screenings on all third-grade students in a location.

    You may also want to include other dentists or clinics who can help treat kids at reduced or no cost. If you discover children who have strong dental needs during your screening, you’ll be glad you did.

  • Treatment/restorative event

    These events are particularly useful for those facing dental struggles with nowhere else to turn. For these Give Kids A Smile events, you’ll need a strong collaboration of professionals willing to provide treatment or further assistance.

    For programs like these, make sure you limit the number of participants, and choose an appropriately sized venue.

Planning Your Give Kids A Smile Event

Once you decide upon which event to create, you need to start planning the details.

To start, decide when your event will take place.

As basic as it sounds, remember that children go to school, and their parents to work.

As such, scheduling your event on a Friday evening or a weekend could yield optimal turnout. Keep in mind other major local events could affect turnout, as well. 

Once you know when your event will take place, decide who will attend and how they will flow into your event.

Here, the ADA recommends two different approaches. First, consider “pre-identifying”. Though it requires more work during the planning phase, it offers better logistics in the end.

The second approach is first come, first served. While this requires less planning, you may end up with more people than expected, leading to complications.

Next, you’ll need a venue. Depending on the size & scope of your Give Kids A Smile event, consider options like:

  • Individual/multi-dentist practice 
  • Dental school
  • School gymnasium/auditorium
  • Community health center
  • Shopping mall
  • Church fellowship hall
  • Hospital
  • Government buildings
  • Mobile dental van

With these three details out of the way, preparations can begin for the event itself.

If you need additional dental supplies, resources exist to help you bring in donations. For instance, you can request supplies from national GKAS sponsors by visiting the ADA website.

Though limits apply to the amount of donated dental supplies provided, it remains a great place to start. Additionally, you can ask sales reps, vendors, and others in your network to sponsor donations.

A person holding up a sign that says "time management"
Related: Need more time? Check out these key tips for better time management in your dental practice. (click image to learn more)

Recruiting volunteers

After planning your Give Kids A Smile event, it’s time to recruit volunteers.

If your event plans are well laid-out, established, and communicated, you’ll have a much easier time with this. After all, nobody wants to attach themselves to a messy, uncoordinated project.

Reaching out to local or state dental associations can help, as well as churches, community centers, and local government agencies.

Along every step of the way, ensure your volunteers feel appreciated.

Send thank-you letters, hold a special dinner for them, or even list them in local publications to recognize their service.

You can also get in touch with the GKAS organization to receive certificates for them, reminding them of the difference they made for others.

Gathering volunteers takes a lot of work, and if you hope to hold future events, you’ll want them to have enjoyed a positive experience when asked again.

GKAS Event Promotion

While successfully promoting a GKAS event takes many forms, the American Dental Association puts heavy emphasis on relaying your message to the media. Use them to your advantage, and communicate your message of good will.

When promoting your GKAS event, you’re better off reaching out to too many resources than too few. TV news channels, radio stations, newspapers, and even school administrators remain excellent choices.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much cooperation you’ll receive when the focus is on helping children.

Conducting your event

By now, you should have a fairly fleshed-out event. However, as the day begins, a few tips can help keep things running smoothly. 

  • When possible, assign a volunteer to each child or family as their turn in the event approaches. This helps assure patients of what to do next, and streamlines the process.

  • If you have the space, bring in a crafting table or coloring materials to entertain kids while they wait.

  • Have fun and make the environment fun for kids. There’s no reason to create a serious, somber environment, especially at an event geared towards children.

    For instance, when treating especially younger kids, an appearance from a staff member dressed up as the tooth fairy might just create the highlight of their day. 

  • Enable easy, clear communication among your staff to keep the event running smoothly. For larger events, this might mean walkie-talkies, while smaller events can use a designated group chat on your cell phones.

  • Ask for feedback. You can give out a survey, or simply talk with people who come in. Both your volunteers and guests can provide valuable insight on what went well and what improvements you could make. 

Evaluate your event

After your Give Kids A Smile event, it’s time to reflect on the efforts of you and your team.

Did you achieve your original goal? Surpass it? Come up a bit short?

Not every event ends up a resounding success. But, even those that fail to reach expectations still provide a great outcome for people in need.

Simply hosting a GKAS event leads to something positive.

Take an objective look at what you accomplished and enjoy the rewards of a good deed.

Thank Everyone

Hosting a GKAS event requires  people coming together, giving up their time, and working towards a single cause.

Make sure you thank everyone involved: the volunteers, the families who came in for treatment, your promoters, your venue host, and anyone else who put in their time, energy, or financial donations.

Whether it’s a simple “Thank you” card, a personal handshake and gratitude, or offering a small gift bag, a sincere “Thank you” means a lot.

Are you ready to help Give Kids A Smile?

While there’s no doubt putting together an event for Give Kids A Smile is a major undertaking, it’s well worth the effort you put in.

And, it’s not a journey you need to undertake alone. Countless resources exist to help get you on track and make your GKAS event a success.

Research the information available and find help with whatever you need.

If you’d like to learn more, be sure to visit the GKAS website for more information, make a donation, or reach out for assistance.


About First Choice Dental Lab

First Choice Dental Lab is a full-service dental lab with locations in Downers Grove, Il. & Wauwatosa, Wi.

We manufacture & customize quality dental restorations for general dentists. We create smiles based on your needs and budget.

We’re here to help you give your patients a reason to smile!

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