Turnout Strong for First ‘Summer of Smiles’ Dental Hygiene Clinic

By Ben Boulden

They were the department’s first summer clinics.

“I was a bit surprised,” said Bridget Fitzhugh, RDH, an instructor in the department. “Sometimes the clinics can be hit or miss. Because we did it during the summer when the kids are not in school, I think we had more patients available to attend.”

For children 3-17 years old and at no cost to their families, the Summer of Smiles clinic provided dental cleanings, examinations, X-ray imaging and fluoride treatments.

Dental hygiene students at Summer of Smiles keep the spirit of the clinic lighthearted to ease any anxiety the children might have had as patients.

Dental hygiene students at Summer of Smiles keep the spirit of the clinic lighthearted to ease any anxiety the children might have had as patients.

“The parents were especially excited that they were able to get their children seen without disrupting their school schedule,” Fitzhugh said. “Several families did not have dental insurance or a dental-home. It was very valuable to them that they could get their children oral health services free of charge. The children were excited by the goodie bags and the photo booth. We tried to make it festive!”

Originally, the plan was to do one clinic in early June, but the demand was so strong that the department added a second date later in the month.

“The students had such a blast and felt very proud to serve their community through this clinic,” Norton said.

Children can be apprehensive about seeing a dentist, especially for the first time, but she said she didn’t see much evidence of them being fearful at the Summer of Smiles clinic. “Our students did a wonderful job approaching each patient individually and working at a pace that made them feel comfortable with preventative treatment,” Norton said.

“Just being able to educate them and give them a toothbrush was invaluable and rewarding,” Norton said. “Some had never seen floss before or had anyone show them how to brush. You can really make a positive impact on these kids’ lives.”

She said she hopes they can follow-up with the pediatric patients in the fall to reinforce what they learned as well as review their oral health.

The faculty dentist referred some children who needed additional restorative care to UAMS’ Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation Oral Health Clinic on the Little Rock campus and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Although it was the first time the department had organized a summer clinic, Norton and Fitzhugh both said because of the robust public demand, it’s likely the first of many Summers of Smiles.