The American Dental Association (ADA) is marking the national kickoff and 15th anniversary of the ADA Foundation’s Give Kids A Smile (GKAS) program, through which hundreds of thousands of children in need receive free oral health education, screening, preventive care, and treatment services from volunteer dentists, dental team members, and others each year. More than 550,000 volunteers have helped more than 5.5 million children receive free oral health services through GKAS since its inception.

Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark, NJ, is hosting this year’s national GKAS kickoff. The event, taking place today, will welcome more than 300 children, who will receive pro bono dental screenings, examinations, and preventive treatments delivered by more than 100 Rutgers students and faculty volunteers. Hundreds of children from Essex County grade schools will receive a cleaning, a fluoride treatment, an oral health goody bag, and advice on taking care of their teeth and gums. The RSDM Galloway, Somerdale, and Northfield clinics and Rutgers’ School of Health Related Professions in Scotch Plains also participate in the GKAS program.

“This is a time to celebrate all that GKAS has accomplished during the past 14 years. So many good things have occurred, but we realize there is still more to do in the years ahead,” said Dr William R. Calnon, president of the ADA Foundation. “The passion obvious at Rutgers is what energizes the program. It is driven by people wanting to truly make a difference.”

“Rutgers is honored to host the kickoff of Give Kids A Smile today,” said Cecile A. Feldman, dean of Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “Since it began 15 years ago, GKAS has been tremendously successful at raising public awareness of the importance of oral healthcare for children, especially those who ordinarily don’t have access to dentists and whose families may lack knowledge of proper care. Dentists and dental students all over America have been reminded that we can make a difference in the lives of kids who aren’t fortunate enough to get a check-up every 6 months. Because of GKAS, millions of smiles are brighter.”

Rutgers’ event is one of at least 1,300 Give Kids A Smile events scheduled to take place throughout 2017. Events range from those similar to Rutgers’, which provide services to hundreds of children in a day, to individual dentists providing pro bono oral health services and a dental home to one or several children under the Give Kids A Smile banner.

GKAS sponsors include Henry Schein Inc and CareCredit.

The GKAS program originated in 2002 in St Louis. The ADA launched it nationally in 2003 as a way for dental professionals to join with others in the community to provide free dental services to underserved children. Initially a 1-day event in February, the program has since grown to include events of all descriptions, year-round. Give Kids A Smile is also the anchor event of the ADA’s National Children’s Dental Health Month.