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University at Buffalo dentist's mission: Give kids a smile

The University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine will host its annual Give Kids a Smile Day next week but it’s biggest free dental clinic only begins to tell the story of the how students and staff reach deep into the community.

“It really is more than just one day,” said Dr. M. Dian Chin Kit-Wells, clinical assistant professor of pediatric and community dentistry at the school. “Community dentistry is going on year round here – and not just during school hours. After school, on weekends, always, we want our dental students to develop this comfort being in the community giving time back, to use their time, their talent and, when they graduate, their treasures to give back to the community and raise the level of dental education.”

Chin Kit-Wells leads by example. She grew up in the borough of Point Fortin in Trinidad and Tobago. Her father, Victor, an electrical engineer and mayor for a time, was of Chinese descent; her mother, Naomi, a registered nurse native to the Caribbean island. She came to UB dental school in 1990 after working as a dental nurse in her homeland and graduating from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

As a teacher, she has put her stamp on dental school efforts that include going door-to-door in underserved neighborhoods with toothbrushes, brochures and sound dental advice; visiting schools, health fairs and community centers; and undertaking dental mission work in far-flung countries. Her students will be among all hands on deck at the dental school for Give Kids a Smile Day on Friday. Interested patients – and dentists who’d like to help – are encouraged to call 829-3717 or 861-3593.

Chin Kit-Wells has two sons, Joshua, 26, and Jamal, 23, as well as a grandson, Medjai, 7 months. She delivered her youngest son while at UB dental school; he is a second-year student there now.

Q. You teach a mandatory course for first-year students, entitled “Profession, Practice, and Community.” Can you talk about that?

Students learn ethics, community program development and the importance of serving the communities in which they serve.  ... Lecturers come in to talk about different community organizations, populations, introduce them to multiculturalism, to different levels of socioeconomic levels. Show them as much diversity as possible. At the same time, the students have to go out in the community, design a program and implement that program.

Q. It’s not about what you call “drilling and filling?”

It’s about people. You have to have good people skills, good communication skills and an open heart. Look at this dental chair. You sit on the chair and it goes back slowly. Have you ever fallen backwards? It’s not a good feeling. And we haven’t even started. You have to connect. It’s awesome that we get the opportunity to make a whole-person connection. This is a profession of love. If you can’t love a stranger, if you can’t connect with them for 20, 25 minutes and really show them they are the most important person in the world right now, then dentistry should not be for you. You have to make people feel special, with kids even more so. They will remember you.

As dentists, we’re about disease management. We’re about treating, and we’re about that whole person.

Treatment begins with understanding the person a bit first. For those with disabilities, it’s about understanding their abilities.

That’s what we’re trying to teach, and Give Kids a Smile Day is a great way to do that. We get to expose the dental students to a wide variety of kids and their parents, teenagers and their teachers from all over Buffalo and Western New York who are super excited to come to what looks like the Galleria mall of dentistry.

Q. Where aside from UB do you practice dentistry?

Part of being on faculty in our department means you have to apply for privileges ad Children’s hospital. We can do treatment under sedation and sometimes have to take children into the operating room at Children’s Hospital. We have to be on call there for the community, say if there’s an accident. My first call was a dog bite. I’ll never forget that. ... You will see and handle anything you can think of.

I’ve been working with Coventus. (Women &) Children’s Hospital’s dental department has moved over to the Coventus building and I’m there twice a week working with the dental hygienists, the residents and dental students, supervising the treatment of patients with special needs. It’s very rewarding.

Q. Can you talk about the UB establishment of an infant dental home? What’s that?

You can stop a child from having a cavity but it takes a few things: early recognition, early intervention, early education and access to care. We have an infant dental clinic. I passed it on to one of my residents who became an attending, Dr. Amy Nagai. She works with early childhood caries – cavities. They can be prevented with good early checkups at the dentist and we can tell parents, “Don’t put the baby to bed with a bottle of milk or juice or soda. Make sure you’re brushing once you see that first tooth comes in. Provide healthy food: nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. Avoid sugary drinks and multiple carbohydrate snacks.” If there are folks in the family that have bad teeth or cavities, they can transmit that bacteria from themselves to the child, so no placing the pacifier in your mouth to clean it before placing it in the baby’s mouth. No tasting baby food. ... If you have poor oral health, 71 percent of the time you’re passing that bacteria along to the child.

Q. What are the greatest needs when it comes to child dental care in Western New York?

Access to care and education, because you can prevent so much from going wrong so early. Everybody needs a dental home and parents need to be aware that there is a dental home where they can take their children. It doesn’t just mean a building, it means an organization, a group, that’s there for them. Of course, they need somewhere to come in for treatment, too.

Q. Give Kids a Smile Day is coming up on Friday, Feb. 3. What will that be like and is there still space for children who are eligible?

Yes. Give Kids a Smile Day is an access to care program. The main focus is letting people know that the doors are open for care. If you have a dental home already, we encourage you to go and make full use of that home. If you don’t, we’re here. It’s great to bring people in for the day. It’s like a reunion where we’re giving back to the community. The true Give Kids a Smile Day patient is a patient who doesnt’ have a dentist, cannot afford a dentist and knows that they need care. We are bringing in several schools. We’ll have about 200 dental students. My entire freshman class is participating in the morning. In the afternoon, we have second-year dental students. We have the Pediatric Dental Club. We’ll have pediatric dental residents – students who have graduated that are now studying to become pediatric dentists. We have residents from Roswell Park and ECMC. We’ll have 200 to 300 volunteers. We’ll be doing exams and cleanings, sealants, fillings, extractions, orthodontic consultation, dental education and our health fair – a Teddy Bear Clinic in Harriman Hall. ... Nursing students will attend and they will provide treatment to Teddy Bears to raise the comfort level when it comes to visiting the doctor.

Q. How do you take care of your teeth? Do you floss every day?

I get a cleaning on my birthday. That’s how I remember to get it done. I brush twice a day and try to eat healthy. I drink a lot water. This morning, I accidentally left the house without flossing and went back. I try to floss every day but some days I’m really busy. The good thing about being a dentist is I can always floss at work. We also love taking care of each other in here. I’m excited my son is going to be a dentist because he can take care of me, too.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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