Dental School Outreach in Neighborhood Schools

College of Dental Medicine faculty, students join with National Dental Association to expand education through HEALTH NOW-New York initiative

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Give Kids a Smile Day

2014 Give Kids a Smile Day

2014 Give Kids a Smile Day


Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine has joined with the National Dental Association to expand outreach programs to school children in Upper Manhattan in April and May. More than 600 children in three public schools are receiving dental education as part of the HEALTH NOW-New York initiative.

The school visits began April 9 at Amistad Dual Language School in Upper Manhattan, where students in kindergarten through fourth grade were surveyed about their dental habits, received oral health education, and were presented with gift bags to help them improve their tooth brushing and other dental care. Faculty and students from the dental school and representatives of the National Dental Association were on hand to interact with students and answer their questions. Two of the neighborhood’s elected representatives, U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel and New York State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, are expected to participate in the April 25 visit to Public School 189 in Washington Heights, where third graders will visit with community leaders, dental faculty and students, and representatives of the National Dental Association.

The HEALTH NOW-NY initiative, part of a national grassroots program to improve oral health in vulnerable populations, wraps up May 30 with a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, where students in prekindergarten through fifth grade will interact with College of Dental Medicine faculty and students. The mission of the National Dental Association is to promote oral health equity among people of color by harnessing the collective power of its members, advocating for and mentoring dental students of color, and raising the profile of the profession in local communities.

The College of Dental Medicine, which will celebrate its centennial in 2016, has a long history of community outreach. Contemporary efforts are based in the Community DentCare program, which was started in 1996 as a network of partnerships and collaborations with neighborhood schools and community health clinics to provide Northern Manhattan’s low-income, underserved, and uninsured residents with access to dental care. The program was launched after a Washington Heights school principal reached out to the College of Dental Medicine to seek dental care for the many children at her school who were unable to attend class because of toothaches.

The program, which also provides free screenings, treatment, and education to hundreds of Northern Manhattan children each year as part of the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile Day, has logged more than 150,000 patient care visits in its nearly 20-year history. School children are seen in eight school-based dental clinics, and a mobile dental van visits more than 80 locations throughout Northern Manhattan and the Bronx to offer comprehensive dental care to children ages 3 to 5.

Earlier this year, Community DentCare was spotlighted when the College of Dental Medicine received the 2014 William J. Gies Award from the ADEAGies Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Dental Education Association. The Geis award, named after William J. Gies, PhD, a co-founder of Columbia’s dental school, honors achievement by an academic dental institution in support of dental education.

“The relationships CDM has developed with the residents of the Washington Heights, Inwood, and Harlem communities of Northern Manhattan and of the Bronx are mutually rewarding and central to the College’s mission,” says Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent, dean of CDM. “Community DentCare is a tremendous opportunity for our faculty members to share their expertise not only with our neighbors, but with our students.”

CDM visits neighborhood schools

The U.S. Surgeon General cites tooth decay as the single most-common chronic disease of childhood in the U.S. Five times more children have cavities than have asthma. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that more than 25 percent of children under the age of 6 have cavities, many children start kindergarten with untreated dental problems. Children from minority, low income, and immigrant families—which include many children in the New York City school system—have more than 80 percent of the pediatric population’s cavities, even though they make up only 25 percent of that group. An estimated 4 million to 5 million children in the U.S. have dental problems so severe they have trouble eating, sleeping, and learning, leading to a projected 51 million school hours lost each year from some form of oral health problem.

An advisory committee formed as part of the current HEALTH NOW-NY initiative will continue to identify ways to increase outreach for underserved communities throughout New York.