If a child is sick or in pain it is very difficult for them to pay attention and learn in school. If they are hungry or sad, school work might not be the most important thing on their mind. These are all needs that must be met to give that child the best chance of succeeding in school. The same can be said for a child who is experiencing dental pain, but it seems that it is sometimes easily forgotten that a child’s mouth is connected to the rest of their body.
Save a Smile is a program that is the product of a very unique collaboration between Communities In Schools, Cook Children’s Hospital, and 107 volunteer dentist throughout the community. Save a Smile takes very generous volunteer dentists to screen 16 Tarrant County elementary schools annually. Students are screened and put into categories according to the severity of
their dental decay. Save a Smile then case manages the students who were found to have the most severe dental decay through those screenings. There are 6 Community Health Workers who are dedicated to these students. The CHWs make numerous attempts to contact parents, including phone calls, notes home, and home visits, to offer SAS services. Once a family has agreed to work with SAS the CHW will have a discussion with the family about available resources such as savings and insurance. If the family does not have private insurance the CHW will assist the family in applying for Medicaid and/or CHIP. If for any reason the family does not qualify for either of those programs, the CHW then gives the Save a Smile Program Director the student’s information to schedule a dental appointment with one of the SAS volunteer dentist.
We have volunteer dentist in every specialty including general practice, oral surgery, endodontics, pediatrics, orthodontics, and we even have a couple of anesthesiologist who volunteer for surgery cases. Students are scheduled with a dentist that most closely meets their needs. Our dentists treat Save a Smile patients in their private offices free of charge. SAS provides translation and transportation for families when needed. The CHW also works with the family throughout their child’s entire dental treatment to ensure the child makes it to scheduled dental appointments, and that the parents understand the child’s treatment.
There have been many cases in which the CHW assigned to a child has gained the trust of a family and was able to assist in other areas of need. We have received donations of beds for children who have been sleeping on floors, we have assisted families in need of food and clothing, we have helped families pay for prescriptions that are needed for their children, and we are able to help families begin the process of receiving treatment for medical conditions that may not necessarily be related to the child’s mouth.
It is very rewarding to be part of the save a smile program. It is so great to see so many members of our community give so much to the students in our schools. I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many individuals from different professions who have come together to give the children in our community the gift of a healthy smile and another nudge in the right direction to overall success.
Brigitte Diaz-Voigts LMSW
Save a Smile Program Director