Recognizing that your mouth is a window to your overall health and that thousands of children lack access to dental care, in 2004 PCCY coordinates the first Philadelphia-wide day of free dental care called “Give Kids a Smile Day.”
Modeled after an American Dental Association initiative, each year PCCY recruits dental offices in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties that create hundreds of appointments for children to have their mouths examined, teeth cleaned, and in some cases, cavities filled and teeth pulled.
Approximately 36,000 children in Southeast Pennsylvania and many more across the Commonwealth are uninsured, underinsured, or cannot access the basic health care services they need, including dental care. This week-long free dental care event gives free dental care for children 0 – 21 years old, particularly children who are uninsured, have no dental insurance or haven’t been to the dentist in over six months.
In 2019, thanks to the efforts of hundreds of dentists, funders, volunteers, and organizations that serve kids and families, Javier became the 5,000th child to receive free dental care as part of Give Kids a Smile. Javier and his mom called PCCY’s phone bank to book an appointment at Penn Dental Medicine’s Pediatric Clinic, one of 28 participating practices in the region.
The need for dental services for 5,000 children over the course of 15 years were only met because local dentists partnered with PCCY. As the program and number of volunteer dentists grew, in 2019 nearly 700 children were served—still leaving more than 100 placed on a waiting list.
But Give Kids A Smile is as much about kids getting good dental care as it is about helping parents of uninsured kids apply for health insurance so they get the care they need when they need it. Preliminary data from this year’s event shows that two-thirds of the 687 children who received appointments had no insurance. All were referred to PCCY’s Child Healthwatch Helpline, a year-round hotline that helps parents find insurance coverage for their kids.
Medicaid and CHIP cover dental care—and almost every PA child is eligible for one of these programs. But under state law, undocumented children are not eligible, a tragic oversight that undercuts the core public health strategy behind “Cover All Kids”, and betrays our moral obligation to protect children.