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Montana sealant program connects dentists, families

June 16, 2014

By Stacie Crozier

 image of first graders at Elrod School
Smiles at school: First-graders at Elrod School in Kalispell, Mont., practice their brushing skills and clean their teeth April 15 before their Sealants for Smiles! screening. Photo by Peggy Newman
Helena, Mont.—
Thousands of kids and their families throughout Montana have a good reason to smile, thanks to an innovative prevention-focused program launched by the Montana Dental Association in 2012.

Sealants for Smiles! is Montana's school-based sealant program through which volunteer dentists, hygienists, assistants and community members provide at no cost to families dental sealants and fluoride varnish treatments to low-income children in schools. Currently, 87 dental professionals volunteer in 77 schools in their own communities statewide.

"We launched this program when the ADA was developing its Action for Dental Health movement, and we think that it fits in with its action plan by emphasizing disease prevention and providing care now to those with untreated disease," said Dr. Christopher Hirt, MDA president and a general dentist in Billings, Montana. "Montana has a very spread-out population and lots of rural areas where children are in need of dental care. And we also have lots of dentists who are willing to volunteer. What we wanted to do with this program was connect them."

Placing sealants is only one aspect of the comprehensive prevention program, said Dr. Jane Gillette, a Bozeman, Montana, dentist and researcher. Dr. Gillette is Sealants For Smiles! program director and vice chair of the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations. "We also assist qualified uninsured families in applying for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Filling out the paperwork to do this can be an onerous task for a family. The application is very complex, but we help them gather the information they need in order to apply and then spend time with the families helping them fill it out.

"Sealants for Smiles! also coordinates follow-up care for children with urgent treatment needs," Dr. Gillette added. "If they have a dentist of record, we coordinate care back with their dentist. Because our program uses volunteer, local hometown dentists, children with urgent needs but without a dental home are most commonly seen by the attending Sealants for Smiles! volunteer dentist that very day in their office or at the latest the next day."

Dr. Hirt said the program has grown more quickly than organizers ever anticipated, and the number of volunteers surpassed all of their expectations.

"It's so much fun for the dentists and team members who participate," said Dr. Hirt. "The volunteers are very enthusiastic and they are really supporting the program. Because of the support the program receives, the time commitment for volunteers is not huge and we are able to use our skills to help kids in our communities. It's a really great feeling to know we can make a difference."

 image of Sealants for Smiles! program representatives
Award: Beth Truett, president and CEO, Oral Health America (holding microphone), presents a grant to Sealants For Smiles! program representatives May 2 at the Montana Dental Association Annual Meeting in Missoula. Also pictured, from left, are Dr. Christopher Hirt, Montana Dental Association president; Dr. Mike Veseth, MDA immediate past president; Dr. Jane Gillette, program director and vice chair, ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations; and Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont.
Last month, Sealants for Smiles! received a grant from the Oral Health America Smiles Across America program and it also receives generous funding from the Foundation for Healthy Montanans, the foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield. This funding has enabled the MDA to hire a full-time program coordinator and a part-time assistant who handle all the communications with school partners and local organizations that participate, enabling volunteer dentists to concentrate on providing care.

"It is a tribute to the Montana Dental Association that diverse partners are working together to combat the No. 1 chronic disease of children," said Beth Truett, president and CEO of Oral Health America. "Sealants for Smiles! stood out among the 70 proposals OHA received because Dr. Gillette illustrated the passion that the local dental and health care community have for bringing care and hope to 8,500 children, many who live in frontier communities."

See more on Sealants for Smiles! at the MDA's Montana Healthy Smiles website, montanahealthysmiles.com or follow @MTDentists on Twitter.