Photo gallery: Give Kids a Smile Day returns to Cleveland

In 2002—in St. Louis, Missouri—Jeff Dalin and B. Ray Storm held the first Give Kids A Smile event, scraping together resources to provide free oral health care to 400 children.

That legacy continued on Friday, Nov. 4, as Santanna Haywood—a fourth-grade student in the East Cleveland City School District—stepped into the examination area of the Case Western Reserve Dental Clinic for an appointment.

The School of Dental Medicine Give Kids A Smile (GKAS) day was part of a nationwide initiative launched in 2003—due to Dalin and Storm’s hard work—by the American Dental Association to provide underserved children with free oral health care. Each year, approximately 6,500 dentists and 30,000 dental team members volunteer to provide free oral health education, screenings, preventive and restorative treatment to more than 300,000 children.

In her appointment, Haywood appeared nervous. First-year Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) student Zehra Ashruf assured Haywood she had nothing to worry about—but she didn’t appear to be convinced. 

Unfortunately, Haywood’s last experience at the dentist wasn’t pleasant. 

“I was crying a lot and they made my dad leave,” Haywood explained. “My mom said I wouldn’t go back to that dentist ever again.” 

During the Case Western Reserve event—championed by Assistant Professor Ying An—150 children from East Cleveland were provided free dental exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants on adult molars. 

“We were absolutely energized by the children’s smiles,” said An. “This was the first GKAS day event in Cleveland since 2018, and we were thrilled by the enthusiasm of all the Greater Cleveland Dental Society volunteering dentists, CWRU dental students, staff and residents.”

To help Haywood feel more comfortable, Ashruf and third-year DMD student Gabrielle Dean—who was performing Haywood’s exam—steered the conversation to light-hearted topics, like Halloween. 

Haywood seemed to relax as she shared her strategy for keeping her candy safe. 

“My dad eats my candy so I have to hide it,” said Haywood.

After discussing favorite candies and her participation in Girl Scouts and gymnastics, Haywood appeared to trust Dean and Ashruf enough to allow them to continue the oral exam and cleaning.

As Dean worked, she explained every instrument—and how to use each—to both Haywood and Ashruf. Dean has yet to choose a specialty, but she’s strongly leaning toward pediatrics.

“I have completed both of my pediatric rotations,” said Dean, “and I loved it each time.”

When they were done, both Dean and Ashruf asked Haywood how she felt about her experience, and if it was better than the last time she visited a dentist.

“Next time I go to the dentist, I’m coming here!” Haywood exclaimed.