Smiles All Around

On the first Friday in February, the face of Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) changed for the annual Give Kids a Smile Day. That morning, students turned the school into a vibrant playground with decorations and activity stations for things like face painting and dental games. They dressed up in tooth fairy and toothpaste costumes. A magician set up a show.

“When we pulled up in the bus, the students and staff were cheering children on, like celebrities, high-fiving them, and singing,” said Bernadette Boyd-Jenkins, a pre-K teacher at Sarah Ward Nursery, where she teaches four-year-olds. “It was like a party for them. They enjoyed being entertained.”  

Third year dental students
Student organizer Tishana Foster '25 (front) with Michael Kim '25 (left) and Jalen Bonitto '25 (right), who dressed up as toothbrushes on Give Kids a Smile Day. 

Give Kids a Smile is a nationwide effort started by the American Dental Association Foundation to deliver free oral health care to underserved children in February, National Children’s Dental Health Month. Approximately 80 children from Newark Educators and Sarah Ward Nursery came to RSDM for a free dental screening and fun day made possible by RSDM staff, faculty, and about 60 student volunteers.

The student organizer this year was Tishana Foster ’25, the president of the American Academy Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) Club at RSDM, eyeing to pursue a pediatric dentistry specialty after graduation. Since the summer, she worked closely with the Pediatric Dentistry Department’s Clinical Services Supervisor Maria LaBoy, who orchestrates the event, and the AAPD Club leaders. Foster helped with everything from connecting with schools to coordinating student volunteers to planning activities.

“It made me step out of my comfort zone, really showed me how much of a leader I could be, and gave me confidence,” she said. “If you put your mind to it and have a good community around you, things can happen.”  

During the event, she saw firsthand the influence she could have on children as a dentist. She recounted the experience of a little girl who first cried from fear of the dentist and then for not wanting to leave the school. “It showed me that delivery is really important in dentistry and how you can easily just change a child's perception by bringing some form of familiarity or fun,” said Foster.

“It was a very enjoyable experience just to see the kids smiling and enjoying themselves actually going to the dentist because most kids are afraid,” said Shakira Jarrett, a substitute teacher at Sarah Ward. “It was more than just a free dental screening. It was a very well-put-together, fun-filled event for them that made children feel comfortable. The staff were very, very welcoming, had a lot of patience and energy.” Jarrett herself also had a great time.  

Boyd-Jenkins noted that none of her students cried and loved all the activities and receiving gift bags with toothpaste and toothbrushes. “This day motivated the kids because they were in the spotlight,” she said. “It was all about them.”