Healthy Smiles for More than a Decade

For more than a decade, Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students have provided oral health education, screenings, and primary dental care to children in West and Southwest Philadelphia.

The PennSmiles program consists of outreach through classroom visits, as well as a mobile dental van in which faculty and students offer diagnostic, preventive, and restorative services. Since 2003, Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students have overseen more than 5,300 visits on the dental bus to school-age children.

Complete with two suites and a waiting area, the PennSmiles bus is a 40-foot-long, 11-foot-wide, custom-made vehicle that is fully equipped for on-site treatment, from examinations and X-rays, to cleanings, sealants, and basic fillings.

In the PennSmiles program, Penn Dental students in their first and second years provide in-classroom instruction about dental hygiene and offer tips for improved brushing and flossing. Penn Dental students in their third and fourth years work with faculty members on the PennSmiles van.

Penn Dental Medicine’s Division of Community and Oral Health oversees PennSmiles, which is run in conjunction with Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

Since the beginning of the program, PennSmiles has regularly visited the Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia. According to Joan Gluch, the interim division director of community oral health in Penn Dental Medicine, 245 children at Lea Elementary were educated through the program last year, and 65 children in kindergarten and grades 1, 3, 5, and 7 were treated.

“The PennSmiles program provides both increased access to dental care for Philadelphia school children, as well as opportunities for dental students to learn and serve our local community as part of their dental education, illustrating the practical application of one of the core principles for the Penn Compact, which is to engage locally through service in action,” Gluch says. 


Text by Jill DiSanto
Video by Rebecca Elias Abboud