Events, Outreach, Pediatric Dentistry

Under the Sea Smiles: Give Kids a Smile Day 2024 Provides Free Oral Care to More than 170 Children

dental hygenists showing a child proper brushing technique

“I’d like to be under the sea 

In an octopus’s garden in the shade.”  

A nautical soundtrack helped Adams School of Dentistry transform into an undersea wonderland Friday, Feb. 2, during the annual Give Kids a Smile event. Sharks, tooth fairies and UNC Chapel Hill mascot Rameses were on hand to help kids and their families get no cost dental care and learn more about oral health as a kick off to National Children’s Health Month.  

A student playing a fishing game with a patientThe Give Kids a Smile program, launched nationally by the American Dental Association in 2003, is a day of service at ASOD, and this year saw more than 170 children receiving free oral health care, along with educational and informational events for their families. ASOD clinics offered dental exams, cleanings, sealants, fillings, extractions, X-rays and  fluoride treatments throughout the day.  

“This is such a valuable experience for our students. It allows them to truly understand the oral health needs in our community and what they may experience in their own careers. This is a special day for students, faculty and staff to give back and see how our efforts truly help the children in our communities. We look forward to this event each year, and our reward is seeing the healthy smiles of the children and their families,” said Janet Guthmiller, DDS, PhD, dean, UNC Adams School of Dentistry. 

“I saw the impact that this event had on the community, and the number of kids that were served and knew that I wanted to be a part of such an amazing event that gives kids from all over a healthy and happy smile,” said Gabrielle Merritt, DDS ‘25, an event organizer. 

Interim chancellor visits ASOD Dean Guthmiller posed with Chancellor Roberts and the school tooth fairies

During the day, UNC-CH Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts was able to meet with Guthmiller and tour ASOD’s facilities. He got to experience the coordination that happens to provide top notch patient care. Teams were working with children in the pediatric clinic and showing each patient pictures of their teeth and explaining procedures in detail so everyone was on the same page. Roberts was able to meet with faculty, staff and students during his tour of ASOD and was also able to take some time and visit with the resident Tooth Fairies!

Easy way to get care 

Parents were able to take care of dental needs, and one mom of three even brought her 1-year-old daughter, Mckayla, for her first-ever dental appointment. “She was very vocal,” said Ashley Freese of her daughter’s reaction. “Then she saw the toys and was distracted from the tooth brushing.” 

Freese said her family had a positive experience with ASOD when her daughter had craniofacial surgery as an infant and knew they’d be well-cared for by students, faculty and staff. “We know what kind of students you put out and the staff you have here,” she said.  

Every other dentist visit is going to be lame,” Freese said. This is awesome, all the toys, and everybody was ‘all hands on deck’ and y’all took care of everything.”  

Under the sea fun a child interacting with a ASOD student dressed up in a shark costume

Children were able to interact with student and faculty providers and even enjoy some ocean-inspired playtime. Kids could color sea-themed posters, play in sandboxes, throw a line and try to catch a fish, get their faces painted and could even walk the plank in shark infested waters. 

Student organizers helped coordinate the event from the ground up, and even donned costumes during the day’s festivities. Organizers included Esther Lee, Chris Summers, Bree Smith, Gabby Merritt, Valentina Roa, Niki Lanka and Cat Bingham. 

 “This is an important initiative for children and their families regardless of their economic background because this free dental clinic helps overcome the financial barrier that stops some children from receiving care. Our hope is after receiving care on Give Kids a Smile Day, these patients will find their dental home at the school and continue to receive the care they need,” said Bree Smith, DDS ‘25, an event organizer.