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On Saturday, Feb. 7, Pacific Dugoni volunteers held a “Give Kids a Smile” Dental Health Fair at the school’s Hutto Patterson Pediatric Dentistry Clinic in San Francisco. Nearly 100 children received free dental check-ups and cleanings, oral health education, orthodontic evaluations and more.

We caught up with Cristina Markiewicz, DDS '16, who helped organize this year’s “Give Kids a Smile” event along with Grace Lan, DDS '16. Cristina talks about the importance of pediatric oral health and shares some memorable moments from her experiences as a SCOPE leader. She currently serves as special events coordinator for SCOPE (Student Community Outreach for Public Education).

Cristina Markiewicz (at left) at the Give Kids a Smile Dental Health Fair.
Cristina Markiewicz (at left) at the Give Kids a Smile Dental Health Fair.

What did you learn from organizing this year’s Give Kids a Smile event?

All parents want the best for their children, but so many are unaware of early and preventative treatment that their children need. Events like ours not only educate kids on the importance of oral health, but also make parents aware that clinics like ours are available and allow them to bring their children in for care before it’s too late. One of my worst experiences in my pediatric rotation was when a child came in with painful rampant decay and had to undergo treatment during their first visit to the dentist.

Why did you choose to be a SCOPE leader?

I chose to be a SCOPE leader because I truly enjoy helping others. One of the reasons I chose dentistry as a career was so I could provide a service that can profoundly change the lives of others in a positive way. As the special events coordinator, I facilitate large events that help patient populations that routinely are not receiving care and refer them to resources that are appropriate and affordable for the treatment they need. The experiences I am most proud of while I have been in dental school have been at each of these events. I have been a part of CDA Cares, Project Homeless Connect, Give Kids A Smile as well as our smaller SCOPE Health Fairs. These events and experiences have had a huge impact on the way I view the world and have solidified my choice of dentistry as a career.

Can you share some memorable moments from the Give Kids a Smile event?

  • As an organizer of the event, I was constantly moving around performing different jobs. One of those jobs was to relieve some of the volunteers so they could grab lunch and take a break. While I was sitting at the main clinic registration table, I was close to the music we were playing outside the pediatric dentistry clinic. We thought one of the most popular soundtracks for kids would be the new Frozen soundtrack. During “Let It Go,” there was this shy and anxious little girl waiting to go in for her check-up. I had seen her earlier clutching the side of her mother. As soon as she heard the music she started mouthing the words and as the song went on she started to get more comfortable. By halfway into the song, she was out of the chair in the reception area and twirling as she was singing. One of the ortho residents started singing with her and she seemed to be more comfortable around the students.
  • This year we had a balloon artist and face painter at our school for clients after they have had their exam. One little boy came down wearing Spiderman shoes. When asked who his favorite superhero he said, “Spiderman.” I looked at the balloon artist knowing this was going to be challenging because I knew Spiderman’s only accessory was webbing, which is difficult to display with balloons – the balloon artist looked at me and said, “But it’s not impossible.” For the next few minutes he created what looked like webbing on an arm wrap just for the tiny Spiderman fan.
  • One of my favorite events was at the end of the day when I got the chance to look and get a 360 view of the entire event. I was brimming with pride as I saw all of my classmates educating kids and parents as they were decked out in face paint and balloons. Many of them were still in costumes as sugarbugs, toothbrushes, toothpaste and tooth fairies. As nerdy dental students, many of them were dressed in dentistry-themed costumes. As I looked around at all the volunteers, I was so happy that so many of them participated in the fun and had either gotten their face painted or had balloons from the balloon artists.

Kids with balloons

Why is volunteering an important part of dental education?

I feel that volunteering and helping others is a valuable and rewarding experience while we are in dental school. I think most of the students who choose dentistry as a career fall in love with dentistry the moment they visually see the positive impact they make in their patients lives. Many of the patients we see in some of our largest SCOPE events (like Project Homeless Connect) are from populations who have the least access to dentistry. Their dentition is often in dire straights, which presents us with complex cases. These events give dental students the perspective of the different patient populations, and we often are able to make the largest impact on a person by taking them from their hopeless dentition into something that is esthetic and functional so they can improve other aspects of their lives. All of these experiences are extremely rewarding and make us feel that we are making a positive impact on the world.

The Pacific Dugoni volunteers get festive with costumes, balloons and face painting.
The Pacific Dugoni volunteers get festive with costumes, balloons and face painting.