400 kids get free dental care during ‘Give Kids A Smile’ event

Feb 24, 2024, 1:17 PM

A volunteer dentist and a University of Utah dental student perform an examination during the "Give...

A volunteer dentist and a University of Utah dental student perform an examination during the "Give A Kid A Smile" event at the U. in Salt Lake City on Saturday. (Collin Leonard, KSL.com)

(Collin Leonard, KSL.com)

SALT LAKE CITY — Kids filed out of the University of Utah School of Dentistry Saturday, clutching stuffed animals, with tears in their eyes and swollen cheeks, as part of the school’s annual “Give Kids A Smile” event, where dentists from all over the Wasatch Front provide dental care to families under the poverty line, free of charge.

It may not be a child’s favorite day, but the event is “part of something really big,” said Dr. LaRisse Skene, a Utah Dental Association board member.

As a co-organizer of the event, Skene has spent all year recruiting dentists from Holladay to North Salt Lake, and Tooele to Sandy, convincing them to give up a Saturday and provide dental care for kids 17 and under. “It used to be just 20 chairs,” she says, but after years of building up the event, and with help from generous donors, the program now has 80 dentists and specialists, along with 20 hygienists and hundreds of community volunteers to give around 400 kids the opportunity to receive the care they need.

Dr. James Williamson said the Utah event is unique.

Across the country, Give Kids A Smile hosts events where kids can get teeth cleanings and are screened for issues to be addressed by dentists on return visits. “We are doing wisdom teeth extractions. We are doing root canals. We are doing ortho. We are doing perio. We do dentistry — real hard-core dentistry,” Williamson said.

Specialists who do root canal procedures and other oral surgeries, as well as pediatrics, are available and ready to operate. If any dentist needs to finish work at a return visit, they give the family a voucher for continued free care at their offices.

“These are people that can’t afford dentistry in any way,” says Williamson. “We are doing hundreds of thousands of dollars in free dentistry today, all donated. Not one dime goes into anybody’s pockets. This is 100% going to the patient — total charity — nothing in return, no self-serving at all. And it always has been that way.”

He says, a few years ago, the event became “victims of their own success,” as the children who returned year after year required less and less serious intervention. In the last couple years, however, an influx of migrants and refugees in Utah has renewed the demand for medical care.

Patients were recruited by three organizations, including 200 children from the local refugee population brought in by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Wasatch Front Service Mission. The Midvale Community Building Community organization identified many families in Salt Lake’s Hispanic population with significant care needs, and the state of Utah’s Health Access Project performed outreach and screening for many families as well.

Dentistry students at the U. and hygiene students from across the valley helped doctors with private practices and those who work in hospitals around the region. Volunteers from the community buddied up with the children, taking them to various stations, helping them pick out stuffed animals donated by local Latter-day Saint wards; and helping educate families about oral health and mouth maintenance.

Bins of donated stuffed animals are distributed to children who received free dental care during the University of Utah’s annual “Give Kids A Smile” event Saturday at the U. (Photo: Collin Leonard, KSL.com)

Henry Schein, a Utah-based dental supply distributor, donated all the materials used Saturday, from composites to fillings and everything in between.

“You cannot separate out the mouth from the rest of the body’s care,” Williamson said. “It’s all tied together, it’s a community effort.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

One of two controlled detonations of old dynamite is seen in Holladay on April 24, 2024. (KSL TV)...

Josh Ellis

Crews detonate ‘ancient dynamite’ sticks found in Holladay home

Hazmat crews detonated old explosives that were found in a Salt Lake County home early Wednesday morning after evacuating dozens of nearby houses.

5 hours ago

Summer travel is about to take flight. That means a whole lot of points and miles being used and ea...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Thieves are going after your frequent flier mileage: how you can safeguard those miles and points

Summer travel is about to take flight. That means a whole lot of points and miles being used and earned, and cybercriminals know it.

13 hours ago

One of the tennis courts that used to be available to the public but now closed due to repeated van...

Debbie Worthen

Some Salt Lake high school facilities closed to the public due to irresponsible dog owners

The Granite School District says irresponsible dog owners are forcing the closure of some high school tennis courts that used to be open to the public.

13 hours ago

A fire at an egg farm in Lewiston has resulted in a response from as far as Franklin, Idaho. (Brian...

Dan Rascon

Egg farm catches fire in Lewiston, prompting a fire response from as far as Franklin, Idaho

A four-alarm fire at the Oakdell Egg Farm in Lewiston left scores of chickens dead on Tuesday.

13 hours ago

Winnie Quilter's dad's 1982 BMW 320I that was set a blaze during Tuesday morning fires....

Garna Mejia

Four fires near downtown Salt Lake City prompts an arson investigation

Fire investigators are looking for someone suspected of starting several fires in the downtown area early Tuesday morning.

15 hours ago


Lindsay Aerts

Utah State Board of Education clarifies districts are in charge of bathroom law implementation

The Utah State Board of Education is clarifying that it's up to school districts to decide how they implement a new bathroom law in schools that requires students to use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth

15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

400 kids get free dental care during ‘Give Kids A Smile’ event