Introduction of a Novel School-based, Business Driven Dental Program to Alleviate Pain and Unmet Dental Needs for Underserved Children

Nationally, 14% of our 6-12-year-old children are likely to have suffered from a toothache in the last six months. Preventive measures such as dental sealants only reach a fraction of children, while the lifetime cost of a decayed permanent molar ranges from $2,187 to $6,105. At the same time, fewer adults are seeking dental care and more young adults are using the emergency room for dental treatment. It is widely recognized that children need to be reached before dental problems become painful or chronic. Efforts to address this need meet many barriers.

In Colorado, Medicaid dental coverage does not reach every eligible child. Efforts such as Give Kids a Smile day or the Colorado Mission of Mercy call attention to dental health needs but do not provide comprehensive, long-term care. Non-profit dental clinics serve as a safety net but are not in every community and have continued funding challenges. New community programs such as Cavity Free at Three or SMILES Dental Home Project serving rural areas are making inroads, but have yet to conquer the problem of providing services for those without the ability to pay for treatment. School-based programs have proven successful in reaching children for sealants and dental health awareness; still only 25% of low income children receive sealants and are twice as likely to have unmet dental needs. Reaching low income children for dental treatment requires both financial backing, awareness, and a passion to treat. This paper describes a unique school-based, business driven arrangement that accomplishes those goals without the help of government agencies.

In 2006, a group of businesses representing the northern Fort Collins Business Association (NFCBA) asked what they could do to help Irish Elementary, a school with three quarters of children on free and reduced price lunches, a loose measurement of poverty. The answer surprised the business group: they needed dental care. On a frequent basis, children were seeking pain relief for untreated dental treatment in school. The NFCBA reached out to local dentists and “went to work” on the project as private business can. In short order, “Project Smile” raised over $100,000 in the first two years, bridged the barriers between dentists and school-aged kids, and essentially solved the problem of unmet dental need and pain at Irish Elementary. This seemingly intractable, chronic problem that affects people at a national level saw results in fewer than three years at a local level. The program now has become a model for how communities can engage the private sector to alleviate unmet dental needs. Here is the story of Irish Elementary and Project Smile…


By Marisa Moret, Samuel Lynass and Greg Evans, D.D.S.
To read more you can check out the online artice here.
Or you can download Fall 2015 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association