Harnessing the power of sports to produce a healthy smile

Never underestimate the power of a dedicated dentist and a professional athlete when they join forces to combat dental disease among underserved youth. The results can be far-reaching. Ask the participants in TeamSmile.

TeamSmile originated from the combined efforts of William Busch, D.D.S. of North Kansas City Dental, and Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt in response to a national news story about a young boy in Maryland dying from an untreated tooth abscess.

The story compelled Busch to take action. He enlisted the aid of Colquitt, whose mother was a dental assistant, to create a program in alliance with professional sports teams to provide area children with free dental care. That program became known as TeamSmile.

For Colquitt, who is now on the TeamSmile board of directors, his decision to collaborate with Busch was an easy one. “Overall health begins with the mouth,” Colquitt says. “You can’t choose your smile. For many of these kids, dental work changes their lives. If you can improve someone’s appearance, they’re going to be more confident, more likely to try new things and more likely to succeed. There’s a lot of power in a healthy smile.”

“A healthy smile impacts getting a job and even meeting a life partner,” adds Busch. “A smile can affect a child socially and academically. We want to give every child the opportunity to be the best they can be. TeamSmile enables us to do that.”

Twelve years after what began as a single health event with the Chiefs, the program has expanded nationally to other NFL, NHL, NBA, PGA and MLB teams. To date, TeamSmile has impacted more than 25,000 children through 150 programs, offering $15 million worth of free dental care and oral hygiene education.

“In 2017, we successfully ran 19 programs through partnerships with NFL, MLB, and MLS teams,” says TeamSmile Executive Director John McCarthy. “Through our outreach, we provided free dental care to almost 4000 children. Three of those 19 programs included KC teams: the Chiefs, the Royals, and Sporting KC. In 2018, we have commitments for 23-28 plans including the Super Bowl.”

“There are a lot of dental clinics and medical clinics,” observes McCarthy, “What’s unique about this experience is it’s held at a major sports arena or stadium. There are professional athletes, coaches, team mascots, cheerleaders, face painters, and more. It’s more like a dental tailgate. We provide the dental treatment needed while creating a lifetime experience for these children.

Coming to these stadiums is a cool thing in and of itself; it takes the fear out of going to the dentist. Here they go home with the dental work and education and walk away feeling great. The dental aspect of the visit lasts an hour, but the experience lasts a lifetime.”

Busch, the consistent driving force behind TeamSmile, says, “There are about 10 most memorable life events a child can put his finger on at any one time. I want this visit to the dentist to be one of them. These kids will always remember Travis Kelsey, Alex Smith, and Dustin talking to them about dentistry. No matter what kind of story the player has about dentistry, the kids will listen and remember.”

TeamSmile can treat up to 300 children at each dental screening. The visit includes X-rays and dental treatment followed by oral education and a fluoride varnish treatment. Participants are referrals from Boys and Girls Clubs, homeless shelters, community liaisons, and schools.

Each event requires 14-16,000 pounds of equipment and supplies. A semi-truck wrapped in the TeamSmie logo transports the equipment. Onsite volunteers include 15-20 dentists, a similar number of dental hygienists, and assistants, as well as volunteers from Henry Schein, who set up the equipment and handle any equipment problems.

Every child leaves TeamSmile with a toothbrush, Colgate toothpaste, and dental floss, says McCarthy. “While that may seem trivial to some, to these children, it’s everything. Some children comment they have a toothbrush, but ‘my sister, brother and I all share it.’ We give them extra bags to take home.”

All agree they walk away from each event knowing they’ve made a difference in the community. 

“Walking away, aside from being exhausted,“ shares Busch, who serves as lead dentist at all the events, “is a feeling of accomplishment and giving back to the community. We use the power of sports to make it memorable. I always say, ‘Smiles warm the heart, sports inspire the spirit and together, change lives.’”

TeamSmile is a perfect example of this.

For more information on Team Smile or to donate or volunteer, visit TeamSmile.org.