Smile Doctors Partners with Albany Museum of Art to Fund Monthly School Field Trips

Staff Report

Monday, February 6th, 2023

Art-loving students will have even more to smile about over the next 12 months thanks to Smile Doctors, which is partnering with the Albany Museum of Art to sponsor school field trips to the museum.

“This generous support from Smile Doctors shall have a direct positive impact on the lives of 840 students over the course of the year,” AMA Executive Director Andrew J. Wulf, Ph.D., said. “This is the type of strong partnership that can open new worlds, new hopes, and new ideas to young students by exposing them to works of art that can challenge them and spark them to achieve.”

“I thought what a great opportunity for Smile Doctors to get involved and sponsor those field trips every month,” Smile Doctors Field Marketing Representative Michael Ridenhower said. “This is the first venture Smile Doctors has ever done like this. We do have a lot of partnerships out there, but nothing quite like this. This is a bit of a flagship venture for us. I’m excited to see what happens with it.”

The Albany Museum of Art dropped its fees for school and organization tours in 2022. Since then, the AMA has borne the cost of staff time devoted to the tours and preparation of educational material and lesson plans. The museum also has absorbed the cost of the art materials that are used in the hands-on art projects that are a component of the tour package.

“We felt it was important for students to gain access to art,” Wulf said. “Removing the fees that defrayed our costs of the tours was something we believed to be necessary so that there would be no economic barrier as schools weigh the cost of academic-enriching experiences for their students.”

The Smile Doctors sponsorship, which will total $6,000 for the year, will go a long way toward defraying those costs, Wulf said.

Smile Doctors, founded in 2015, is the largest ortho-focused dental support organization in the United States, with more than 325 convenient locations in 25 states. Its work in communities includes programs such as its Tooth Talks. Aimed at grades 2-4, the free 20-minute program teaches the importance of oral health and shows students how to properly care for their teeth through brushing and flossing.

Ridenhower said his company also wants to create a rapport with organizations like the AMA that are active in the community. “We try to stay very community oriented,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in and reinvent the wheel. I didn’t want to throw a bunch of additional programs into a community that already had a lot of programs already.” Instead, he said, Smile Doctors wants to look for ways to partner and build upon what is already being done.

“Ultimately, the kids are the ones who are going to benefit from it,” he said. “In these rural areas, there’s not a lot of opportunities for a museum experience or an opportunity to come in and be creative. I think it is fantastic to have a museum like this in our area.”

AMA Director of Education and Public Programming Annie Vanoteghem, who schedules and facilitates the tours, said she is grateful that Smile Doctors has taken the initiative to help bring art to the lives of students.

“There are tremendous educational benefits to art and no downside to time spent at a museum,” she said. “For example, in 2019, the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center Chalkboard reported on a study that involved 42 schools in Houston, Texas. The researchers got data from all of the schools on the school engagement, and social and emotional-related outcomes of students.

“They found that a ‘substantial increase’ in art educational experiences had ‘remarkable impacts’ on the students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes.”

The study by researchers Dan Bowen of Texas A&M and Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri and released by the Houston Education Research Consortium focused on the initial two years of Houston’s Arts Access Initiative. It included more than 10,000 third- through eighth-grade students. The study showed that, relative to students in the control group, students who received greater exposure to the arts had fewer disciplinary infractions, an improvement in standardized writing scores, and an increase in compassion for others.

Elementary schools comprised 86% of the sample, and the researchers found that an increase in arts learning significantly and positively affected the elementary school students’ school engagement, college aspirations, and inclinations to use art as a means for empathizing with others. Those students were more likely to agree that art made them think in new ways and that their schools offered programs, classes, and activities that kept them interested in school.

“There also are other studies that show the benefits of the arts on education in general,” Vanoteghem said. “We hope all of the schools in our area will take advantage of the free field trips at the AMA, and we thank Smile Doctors for being a vital partner in the effort to build a stronger, more united community through art.”

To schedule a free field trip to the AMA for your class, school or organization, contact Vanoteghem at, or call her at 229.439.8400. Information also is available at