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NJ's KinderSmile Foundation makes GKAS a year-round event

Group's programming focuses on home-school connection

Montclair, N.J.—Moses Dorleon walked sheepishly up to Dr. Pooja Khurana, unsure of what he was in for in her dental chair.

Moses, 8, went to the dentist last year, but his mom, Judith Rene, told Dr. Khurana she noticed something on the roof of his mouth. She decided to visit the KinderSmile Foundation's Give Kids A Smile event Feb. 1 at Central Presbyterian Church.


One less tooth: Dr. Pooja Khurana smiles with Moses Dorleon, 8, and his newly pulled tooth.
"He definitely needs to do a better job of brushing," said Dr. Khurana, a volunteer dentist and a member of KinderSmile's board. "He's got a lot of plaque on his teeth."

KinderSmile leaders: Dr. Sara Kalambur, left, program director for the KinderSmile Foundation, and Dr. Nicole McGrath, take a free second to stop and smile.

Dr. Khurana noticed that one of Moses' front teeth was loose, almost ready to fall out. So she did him the honor and popped it out herself, making Moses excited to show his new toothless smile.

Nearly 300 children attended KinderSmile's GKAS event, receiving exams, cleanings prophies and fluoride varnish, X-rays for those who needed them, and oral health and nutrition education. Seventy volunteers—dentists, hygienists, assistants, community members, pre-dental students, dental students and high school students—loaned their time and services.

KinderSmile is the brainchild of Dr. Nicole McGrath, who spent her day making sure the event ran smoothly, answering dozens of logistical questions and running from the triage room to the cafeteria, where students ate apple slices and pizza and drank water as they colored, read books and were entertained while they waited. Most of the children came from local preschools, and there were also a number of walk-in visits from older children.

"She's a wonder woman, super woman," Dr. Sara Kalambur, KinderSmile program director, said of Dr. McGrath's commitment to the program.

Dr. McGrath, who practices in East Orange, N.J., came up with the idea for KinderSmile six years ago after seeing a 5-year-old patient with an abcess. The patient's mother had Medicaid insurance and couldn't find a dentist in her area who would take it, making her wait longer than she should have to take her daughter to the dentist, Dr. McGrath said.

"That night I went home and couldn't sleep," Dr. McGrath said. "The idea for KinderSmile came to me in the middle of the night. I wanted to advocate for children who were uninsured and underinsured."

The main goal of the foundation is to create greater access to oral health care and to find families a dental home. KinderSmile celebrates GKAS each February but also  provides care for New Jersey children throughout the year, visiting schools and Head Start programs to educate children and their parents on oral health care. The foundation also tries to connect uninsured families with Medicaid services.


Extra care: Dr. Ethan Glickman X-rays Tristen Hospedales, 5.
"We strongly believe that the oral health education has to have a home/school connection," Dr. Kalambur said. "What they learn in school has to be practiced at home and brought back to school again."

The KinderSmile Foundation received a 2012 American Dental Association Foundation Give Kids A Smile Continuity of Care grant. The grant is intended to help the program continue its work and to focus on helping children establish a dental home where they can return for ongoing care. The Continuity of Care grants are made possible by funding provided to the ADA Foundation by CareCredit Corp.

Dr. Kalambur attended the 2012 GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute in St. Louis in October 2012, meeting with program ambassadors from across the country to brainstorm and develop solutions to fine-tune their local events.

Dr. Kalambur has tried to implement some of the techniques she learned at the GKAS Institute and was successful at creating a flow chart to show how children should move through the event, from check-in to treatment to exiting.

"We have a lot to learn," Dr. Kalambur said. "The training I received in St. Louis was really an eye-opener. I can't thank them enough."

Andrea Johnson, a KinderSmile board member who volunteered at the Feb. 1 event, said she has tried to take what she's learned in the corporate world and apply it to the nonprofit foundation. Ms. Johnson, a vice president at Chase Bank in New York City, said she's encouraged the foundation to create more structure and increase their marketing and branding so they can reach more children and raise more money for the cause.

Ms. Johnson became involved with KinderSmile after she turned 50 last year and wanted to do something mission-oriented to celebrate the milestone. She traveled with the board and other volunteers to Haiti to provide dental care. In previous years, board members and volunteers have traveled to Jamaica and Trinidad and will visit Guatemala this year.

"It's just heartbreaking. Particularly when you look in a child's mouth who has all this decay at such a young age," Ms. Johnson said.

Many of the volunteer dentists make their practices available to the children who attend KinderSmile's events to provide pro bono care for them. Dr. Khurana is one of those dentists and found a new patient Feb. 1.

Sophia Imparato, 10, attended the GKAS event with her mom, Dianthe Imparato, who has struggled to find a dentist who will take her insurance. Dr. Khurana examined Sophia and discovered she had three cavities. She sent Sophia along to the X-ray area but told Ms. Imparato she needed to follow-up with a dentist and offered to see Sophia for free.

"I'd be happy to see her. I really would. She's such a sweetheart," Dr. Khurana told Ms. Imparato.

The KinderSmile Foundation will continue its work Feb. 4, providing care for a school that was closed Feb. 1. It will be one of the 20 sites volunteers visit this year, in addition to the education the foundation provides for pregnant women and women with infant children.

"We live Give Kids A Smile, the spirit of it, every single day," Dr. Kalambur said.