Community-Based Approach to Children’s Dental Care Is Saving Smiles

Saving Smiles is a preventative program to reduce the amount of tooth decay in the children of Lafayette County Missouri. It is a Missouri Oral Health Preventative Services Program, which is a community–based approach to prevention of oral disease.

The Saving Smiles program is organized by personnel at Lafayette County Health Department with the support and assistance of county dentists, hygienists, school nurses and many volunteers.

With parental permission, children are given a dental screening and fluoride varnish application. All children receive a copy of their screening results with a list of dental providers to take home to their parents.

This year we began phoning all parents whose children were referred for dental care. With the help of school nurses, we visit with parents about the dental screening results and encourage a dental office visit.

Healthy teeth for our children is the ultimate goal, and a major part of that is continued care. We need children to receive regular checkups. Of the children we treated in the previous year, 62 percent returned for a followup visit with the dentist. We are encouraged by these results, but still have work to do!! Our dentists say that they are seeing healthier teeth since we started the program.

Martha and BugsyBugsy, our dental puppet, is the face of Saving Smiles. He and I offer brushing and oral health education from preschool through fourth grade. He gets his teeth brushed many times by students, is held by nervous students during their exams, and is recognized by school children all over the county.

I am always asked “Where is Bugsy?” when seen without him and was recognized the other day as “that woman who brings the puppet” when seen in a store.

Those of us involved in Saving Smiles thoroughly enjoy what we do. We have seen a steady increase in participation since we started. We began seeing students in 2007 with 60 percent of students in six schools participating. This year we have 11 schools with 76 percent of students preschool through fourth grade being screened, varnished and educated.

Some recent testimonials show support for the program:

  • “I appreciate the opportunity that our students have to participate in the program,” from a school administrator.
  • “I would like to express both the community and my appreciation for the program. It has filled an important need in our area,” from a dental provider.
  • “Both of my boys have been excited to come home and share on the day of the program. It has made an easier transition for the office visit to the dentist,” from a parent

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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