TeamSmile Gets a Kick Ahead of the Big Game

UMKC dental students provide care through the efforts of Chiefs player Dustin Colquitt and TeamSmile

There are plenty of reasons to smile with the upcoming Chiefs’ Super Bowl. Chiefs’ punter, Dustin Colquitt, has long championed TeamSmile, a national advocacy group that provides children in need with a life-changing dental experience through the power of sports. Since the organization’s inceptions, UMKC School of Dentistry students and faculty have also worked hand-in-hand in this amazing effort.

TeamSmile is in the news due to the generosity of Colquitt, who went above and beyond for a recent patient and a longtime Chiefs fan. At a recent home game – for which they were his guest – he surprised the family with a trip to the Super Bowl. Little did they know, it’d also be the first Chiefs Super Bowl in 50 years.

Each year, UMKC students and faculty team up to volunteer at three TeamSmile events – at Kansas City Chiefs, Royals and Sporting KC. The students see about 300 children, providing provide initial screenings, X-rays and recommendations for what care the kids need for that day.

TeamSmile

Accompanied by UMKC School of Dentistry faculty members Becky Smith, Eileen Cocjin and Michael McCunniff; 18 dental students from two dental student groups, Students Take Action and the Pedodontic Dentistry Club, volunteer at the outreach events.

According to Smith, it’s the breadth of care provided at TeamSmile events that impresses her when she participates.

“The impressive thing about TeamSmile is the variety of procedures that are provided,” Smith says “They don’t limit themselves to just preventative care like fluoride and sealants. These kids are getting everything from extractions to root canals.”

“They look in the mirror and see what we’ve done, and they realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this kind of changed my life.’” — Dustin Colquitt

Started in Kansas City, TeamSmile has gone nationwide, partnering with oral health organizations as well as professional and college athletic teams. It began in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot now has partnering with 17 NFL franchises, providing millions of dollars in free dental care.

"I have participated at four Team Smile events including at the Chiefs stadium," says Tara Craven, D.D.S. '21, and president of Students Take Action. "The kids love coming to get their teeth checked and the program has a whole day of activities planned for them. When the players come to visit they all light up! They love the high-fives and fist bumps offered by the players — including Dustin Colquitt! The volunteers all love seeing the players as well and it’s an amazing day full of giving back and helping kids get jazzed about taking care of their teeth!" 

So why is Colquitt involved? For him, it’s the kids’ reactions that really drive home the importance of dental care and how TeamSmile can help.

“We feel like in 20 minutes, we can change a kid’s trajectory, meaning that a lot of our kids are hiding what they have going on in their mouth,” Colquitt says in a promotional video. “They look in the mirror and see what we’ve done, and they realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this kind of changed my life.'”

According McCunniff, UMKC became involved with TeamSmile nearly at the inception of the organization. In 2007, co-founder Bush was planning his first one-day outreach event at Arrowhead Stadium but needed portable equipment since his existing dental practice equipment wasn’t going anywhere. Not only did UMKC provide the equipment, but also student and faculty volunteers.

School of Dentistry kid in chair with student

For McCunniff, he hopes the opportunity inspires his students to come up with their own initiative.

“I challenge the students that when you get out in the field, make your own legacy with an initiative like this,” McCunniff says.

Although he hasn’t heard, yet, of a former student take him up on that challenge, he has received the next best thing. According to McCunniff about half of the participating dentists in the Kansas City-based TeamSmile events are alumni of UMKC.

“The kids love coming to get their teeth checked ... When the players come to visit, they all light up! They love the high-fives and fist bumps ... it’s an amazing day full of giving back and helping kids get jazzed about taking care of their teeth!” 
— Tara Craven, D.D.S. '21

According McCunniff, the school even has an alum who worked on both sides of the organization. Prior to dental school, alumni Caitlin Silverstein (DDS ‘16) was a staff member for TeamSmile. Once in school, she continued to volunteer at every event and now as dental practitioner herself, McCunniff sees her at nearly every event.

The example of the commitment to TeamSmile is a testament to the UMKC School of Dentistry, says Dean Marsha Pyle.

“Instilling in our students the importance of volunteerism is a pillar of our institution,” Pyle says. “By showing our students how meaningful these experiences can be, we hope to encourage a lifelong passion for giving back.”

Published: Jan 30, 2020

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