Mirissa D. Price
“Think back to your last pain-free smile. Now imagine gifting that joy to a child. With programs like GKAS and volunteers across communities, this is the generation when we will equip every child with the tools for a healthy smile."
| Mirissa D. Price
Mirissa D. Price is a 2019 DMD Candidate at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and future pediatric dentist. She serves as a Scholar of Dental Education at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and a Give Kids A Smile Ambassador. Mirissa’s research and outreach interests include social-emotional development in youth; addressing barriers and access to pediatric dental care; interprofessional collaboration; and dental education. As a child, doctors told Mirissa that she would live in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, crippled by pain. Instead, Mirissa uses her medical experiences to inspire others, living each day with a passion to spread pain-free smiles through her dental work, writing, improv comedy performances, and nonprofit work with children. You can stay up to date with Mirissa’s writing at mirissaprice.wordpress.com and follow @Mirissa_D_Price on Twitter or Facebook.
Organization through which your Give Kids A Smile program takes place:
Harvard School of Dental Medicine - Boston, MA
The duration of your involvement in the GKAS program:
I began volunteering with Give Kids A Smile in 2015 during my first year of dental school at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. As Community Service Representative with Harvard’s chapter of the American Student Dental Association, my role was as a coordinator, educator, and provider in the 2015-2016 GKAS program. By the 2016-2017 GKAS year, I was hooked. Seeing the children’s smiles and the impact we were having on the oral health and overall health of the community, I readily rose to a leadership position within the Harvard GKAS program, and have been running the HSDM Give Kids A Smile ever since. In 2017, with the incredible support of the ADA Foundation, I attended the GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute and now serve as a GKAS Ambassador. My role in GKAS and as a GKAS Ambassador will continue throughout my career in pediatric dentistry.
Why do you participate in Give Kids A Smile programs?
Every day, a child in the United States goes to school, camp, or simply the playground with a chronic infection. The child may not be sneezing or sniffling, but his or her teeth certainly are. With Give Kids A Smile, though, that story can change.
Tooth decay (dental caries), commonly referred to as cavities, is the leading chronic disease among children, more common than even childhood asthma. Approximately 42% of children in the United States between the ages of 2 and 11 have dental caries, and nearly one in four children under the age of five already has a cavity. 80% of this decay is suffered by the poorest children in our nation.
In addition, many children don’t have a dental home, a dental office to which they can return on a regular basis for cleanings and exams, and, of course, for that coveted end-of-visit prize. Even among families that do have a dental home, many parents still have questions that arise between visits, such as how to brush and floss – especially with the wiggly young ones – when to be evaluated for braces, what to do about bad breath, how to obtain a mouth guard for sports, or what kinds of foods and drinks to eat for good oral health and how often.
Many barriers stand between our patients and our dental clinics; everything from financial limitations, to distance, to time for appointments, to language barriers prevent a child from receiving care. Our goal in pediatric dentistry, however, is to overcome! Give Kids A Smile is one of the most powerful ways in which we will reach that goal.
Why is the Give Kids A Smile program important?
The greatest gift I ever received as a child was a pain-free smile. This was especially true when I faced a medical illness. Despite so much support around me, my oral health – my healthy smile – became ‘too complex’ to manage. Barriers – medical, financial, and otherwise – simply got in the way of my regular dental visits. When I finally recovered against all odds, my smile did too, along with my oral health.
But not every child is so lucky. In a middle-class family, with an urban setting and knowledge of the health care system, my family could not access appropriate care. Even at the age of ten, I knew this was unacceptable. Oral health is intimately related to systemic health. Oral health is intimately related to self-esteem and well-being. Oral disease is among the most preventable chronic conditions in the human body, and access to care should not be what stands in the way of a lifetime of opportunity.
With Give Kids A Smile, seeing this program spread throughout the country, I can and do envision a world in which all of our children, in some manner, have access to dental care. More importantly, with Give Kids A Smile, I envision a world in which our children all have a dental home, providing the continuity of dental care that can ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles.
In three hours at Harvard’s last Give Kids A Smile program, 41 students joined 3 pediatric dental residents, 2 pediatric dentists, and countless staff and volunteers to provide education and care to 42 children and parents. When a child came in with pain, the volunteers addressed it. When a child was afraid, the dental team did their part to ensure each child would leave with a smile and laugh. As a team, these Give Kids A Smile volunteers and coordinators made a difference in the community through oral health. There is no doubt, to the families, children and volunteers gifted with healthy smiles, Give Kids A Smile is of utmost importance.
Please tell us a story about how your Give Kids A Smile program helped a child/children in need.
An hour after the Give Kids A Smile clinic closed at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, three-year-old Evan reached out to give me a hug. “You changed my life,” his mom whispered, tears in her eyes.
Give Kids A Smile at Harvard School of Dental Medicine provides dental care to children at no charge. In a joyful setting, volunteers gather to provide a positive dental experience for children and serve as a safety net for those children who otherwise might not receive care. Additionally, in an interprofessional format, the Harvard GKAS offers medical wellness screening and education, as the mouth is most certainly connected to the health of the rest of a child’s body.
We are most proud, however, of our commitment to providing continuity of care. Many of the children we serve at Give Kids A Smile are without a dental home. Often, the primary barrier is that of cost. Even the cost of transportation is too much for many of our GKAS families to handle on a regular basis should the child require restorative dental treatment.
This was true for Evan and his mother. As a young, joyful boy, Evan lit up the clinic. He and his mother had arrived only moments before we locked our doors for the day, but I insisted we not turn them away. Instead, I pulled out my loupes and got back to work.
Following a thorough medical history and dental exam, Evan’s case didn’t make sense. He had more cavities than one would expect given the history his mother provided, and was more rambunctious in the chair than would be expected from his mother’s report of their normal ‘brushing routine.’ Even the site of a toothbrush frightened the young boy, and the taste was beyond his capacity to manage.
Fortunately for Evan, we had the clinic to ourselves. A couple of volunteers cleaned nearby, but my focus was entirely on Evan and his family. With compassion to the family and their barriers for care, and patient demonstration of how to help Evan take care of his teeth at home, Evan’s mother finally opened up. She explained his recent diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and the turmoil she was facing personally. She described the costs involved in his care, and the fact that, despite the cavities I had found, she couldn’t afford the cab to return for treatment. With Evan jumping in her lap, she was thoroughly and tearfully overwhelmed.
Give Kids A Smile, however, provided this family, this young boy, with a healthy smile. Give Kids A Smile provided Evan with hope. Through our grant funding, we had managed to create a fund dedicated to supporting continuity of care for our patients in need. The fund supported Evan’s family’s trips to the clinic, and supplemented donations to pay for his treatments. Evan became a regular patient at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, learned to trust the dentist and care for his oral health at home over time, and had established a dental home thanks to Give Kids A Smile. Within the year, Evan’s family moved for work opportunities, but his young smile filled with now healthy teeth will never leave my memory.
Read more history of Give Kids A Smile.
Read the GKAS 15th Anniversary Gratitude Report.
Donate to Give Kids A Smile.