Cover Story: Kids Win With Teamsmile
Words: Pete Dulin | Photos: Brad Austin
Cars are pulling into Lot J at Kauffman Stadium on a humid summer morning. Fans are not gathering early to tailgate before a big Royals game nor are they heading to the stadium seats. Today the action is taking place at the Hall of Fame Club. TeamSmile volunteer dentists and 100 assistants are providing free dental services inside for 300 children from Kansas City’s Boys and Girls Club.
Established in 2007 by Northland dentist Dr. William Busch, TeamSmile partners oral health professionals with professional athletic organizations nationwide to provide life-changing dental care to under-served children. A critical need exists to serve these kids not only locally, but also across the nation. Fewer than 1 in 5 under-served children sees a dentist in any given year. Tooth decay, the most chronic disease of childhood, is five times more common than asthma. Left untreated, poor dental health can affect other areas of the body and, in rare cases, turn fatal. One such case, reported on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams about the death of a child due to an untreated abscessed tooth, prompted Busch to launch TeamSmile.
TeamSmile programs create a positive experience that educates kids about dental care, prevents oral disease and decay, and restores good oral health. “A major problem in our society is dental care. It’s a forgotten health issue,” says Busch in a mild New York accent. Discussing TeamSmile, his drive to make a difference is as captivating and convincing as his smile. “Dentistry can cure disease in minutes. You can really effect change immediately. We have the solution to fix the problem.”
Busch, a father of four, settled in Kansas City after his residency and has lived here 22 years. With the help of co-founder Jason Krause––an employee with Henry Schein, a company that distributes medical, dental and veterinary supplies worldwide––Busch has developed and led TeamSmile into a nonprofit organization with a board of directors. TeamSmile has attracted a number of major sponsors including Midmark and Dexis. Busch has managed these feats over the past four years while running a dental practice in North Kansas City. Recently, he hired his first and only employee, program director Kellie Reneau, to assist with TeamSmile operations. He feels strongly about giving back to his community, stating, “Charity starts at home.”
This program, which has served approximately 7,000 children since its inception, highlights the importance of dental care for kids so they can instill good habits. Each child, on average, receives $1,000 worth of dental care, education on oral health and diet, a Colgate tote bag with a toothbrush and toothpaste, a foam sports ball, lunch, TeamSmile T-shirt, face painting and a memorable experience. At today’s program, the kids will meet Kansas City Royals Hall of Famers first baseman John Mayberry and pitcher Dennis Leonard. These kids and families will be treated to the next home game where the Royals face the Tampa Bay Rays.
Busch hit on the idea of using sports teams in the MBA, NFL and NBA to encourage kids and families to attend TeamSmile programs. Past programs in other cities have coordinated with the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Denver Nuggets and even The Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (PGA). He says, “Sports is the fabric of our community. Everywhere you go, people can always talk about sports, the weather and politics.”
He appreciates the community service of professional athletes and organizations such as the Royals and Chiefs that back the effort. Athletes such as KC Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt are excited to be involved because TeamSmile provides immediate impact beyond fundraising for research or other philanthropic initiatives. Busch’s dream is to get all NFL teams involved eventually. The nonprofit has steadily attracted the interest of professional sports teams that want to participate.
While the kids are excited to meet sports heroes and see a ball game, the underlying value of this program is to teach kids about dental hygiene. “The program offers screenings and treatment,” Reneau says. “We’re trying to break the cycle by offering preventative care. We teach kids how to brush their teeth, how it affects their overall health and how to instill good habits.”
Busch emphasizes how a smile is important in our society to make a positive impression on a first date, greet friends and win over prospective employers in an interview. Healthy teeth and good hygiene matter. “This lesson has lifelong impact. Nutrition and good teeth are important as we age. Being able to chew food is important,” he says. “We try to give the kids an experience. That’s part of it. It’s more than an office visit.”
Each child is registered at the initial check-in by volunteers. They use a laptop to create a digital record just like a visit to a conventional dentist office. Serena Carson, who volunteers with TeamSmile four hours a week, explains the process. The history enables TeamSmile to update consent forms, track return visits, check for allergies, review a child’s past care and assess dental health progress. Carson, an enthusiastic volunteer, says, “It’s an amazing opportunity to give back to the community.”
UMKC School of Dentistry students educate kids and discuss oral hygiene. After the dental X-ray, exam, cleaning and any necessary treatment, each child rotates to another area where they watch a brief video about dental care on an iPod. Dental student Ali Kessler reviews the video with a young boy and then asks him questions. She listens as he claims to brush his teeth an impressive five times a day. Kessler reaffirms patiently that even brushing 2-3 times daily after meals is important.
The dentists, assistants and students wear navy blue scrubs bearing TeamSmile and KC Royals insignia. They use state-of-the-art equipment to sterilize tools and clean teeth. A machine on-site can make dental crowns as needed in eleven minutes. New York firm Henry Schein Dental donates portable equipment such as chairs, sitting stools and examination lights.
Outside, a dietitian from Hy-Vee leads activities that informs the children about healthy eating habits. DJ Kirby from 99.7 The Point (djkirbyradio.com) plays pumping upbeat music to keep kids and volunteers energized. The tunes also help drown out the sound of drills inside at the dental stations. Each program is designed to maximize the opportunity for all involved. From start to finish, the TeamSmile experience is thorough, efficient and fun.
Volunteers are an integral part of each program. Without them, TeamSmile could not have the same reach among so many kids in different communities across the country. Dr. Conrad Journee, a dentist at Clay County Health Services, has volunteered his services with TeamSmile from the beginning. The New Orleans native did not hesitate to help when asked by Busch. “I work with kids every day at Clay County. I love to do this. It gets the Kansas City community more involved.”
Sometimes the benefits extend beyond this one-day program. Journee describes an example where a 7-year-old boy at TeamSmile needed a root canal and other work. He sat down with the parents, explained the situation and encouraged them to visit his office to complete the treatment. “I wanted to save his teeth,” says Journee. “Watching kids smile makes it worth it. It’s neat to be involved.”
TeamSmile coordinates this same high impact program in other cities, utilizing local dentists and volunteers and representatives from each city’s professional sports team. The nonprofit hosted seven programs in 2010 that performed more then 1,600 treatments and instructed more than 1,500 children on how to take better care of their teeth. Busch says, “The program is so popular that dentists from around the country are always calling to see if they can bring the magic formula (TeamSmile) to their hometown.”
Each program costs between $8,000 – $12,000, but the return on investment for underwriters and sponsors is exponential. “That money turns into $250,000 worth of dental services provided,” says Busch.
As the day’s activities wind down and 300 children at Kauffman Stadium walk around with beaming smiles, once again TeamSmile hits one out of the park and everyone involved is a winner.
To learn more about TeamSmile, volunteer and donate, visit www.teamsmile.org or call (816) 595-TEAM.
Published in Home in the Northland Magazine, August/September 2011.
Previous work for Home in the Northland Magazine.