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Free dental care for children at Ohio State Feb. 3

College of Dentistry hosts annual Give Kids A Smile Day

With nurses and nurse practitioners in her family, Erin Paulhardt saw how meaningful working in medicine could be. A love of the arts, though, kept her from following the same path. Dentistry, said the third-year dental student at The Ohio State University, allowed her to combine the two.

“You’re working with people, making a difference in their lives while also using creativity,” Paulhardt said of her work, which includes color matching fillings and visualizing treatment options in small spaces like the mouth. “There’s a lot of artistry that people don’t think about.”

Paulhardt will have the chance to use her creativity to help patients in February at the College of Dentistry’s annual Give Kids A Smile Day. She serves as president of Ohio State’s student chapter of the organization, which is sponsored by the American Dental Association Foundation.

“Our student leaders are dedicated to the success of these events,” said Erin Gross, assistant professor and director of pediatric dentistry. “They plan for months and work hard to make it a great day for our patients and their families.”

On Feb. 3, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., children in underserved communities will have access to free dental care. With an appointment, patients can get a cleaning and receive diagnostic and preventive services – no insurance required. Complimentary parking will be provided for each patient at the 11th Avenue Garage by CampusParc.

By age 12 months, children should have a dental home, Paulhardt said. Ohio State’s pediatric dentistry clinic charges fees that are generally less than those charged in private practice, and the clinic accepts government health insurance, which is rare.

In addition to providing routine examinations, a dental home offers a level of comfort for patients. They can ask questions and flag concerns, which may lead to catching a problem sooner.   

“The earlier they [see us], the better the outcomes we see when they’re older. You can get ahead of [any issues] and instill good oral care practices from an early age,” she said. “Then you’re not playing catch up when they’re older.”

“Many families struggle to find dental care, especially for young children,” Gross said. “Through Give Kids A Smile we hope to establish a dental home for the children who need us the most. Families are encouraged to return to the College of Dentistry for any treatment they need.”

Dental and dental hygiene students will perform the procedures, but residents and faculty are present to answer questions and lend a hand.  

“There are so many people there that day,” Paulhardt said. “We have dental and dental hygiene faculty, we have pediatric dentistry residents, we have general practice dentistry residents. They advise on everything [we] do.”

Finding faculty and students willing to volunteer their time isn’t difficult, she said. Often, the event has more than it needs.

“The day feels so magical. Everyone is so happy and excited to be there,” she said. “There’s nothing but good energy. Everyone is happy to provide [the kids] with these services.”

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