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Smile Kentucky! gives free dental service to local kids

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By Geoff Hamill

Some Washington County students had plenty to smile about Friday afternoon when they returned from a unique trip to visit the dentist.

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Thirteen students from North Washington and Washington County elementary schools took part in the Smile Kentucky! program Friday, where they received free dental care courtesy of the University of Louisville, along with several corporate sponsors. When the day was done, more than $4,300 worth of free dental care was provided to the local students.

Smile Kentucky! has more than 100 dentists and hygienists who provide treatment to students, and kids from 34 schools will benefit from the program this year, according to Smile Kentucky! Program Manager Kelley Dearing Smith.

“The Louisville Water Company helped create the program eight years ago, and it was a unique community partnership,” Smith said. “It’s very rewarding, and my eyes have been opened to the problem, especially with younger children.”

Smile Kentucky! serves students between the third and sixth grades who are not covered by dental insurance, but are in need of dental attention. Area dentists, including Dr. Ben Smith and his brother, Dr. Bob Smith, volunteer by providing screenings to help determine which students will be invited to the University of Louisville School of Dentistry for further treatment. After being selected, parents must sign a consent form for treatment to be performed. The students are then taken to Louisville by bus for whatever treatment dentists at the university determine necessary.

“These kids are so brave. They come on a school bus with just their chaperones, and they get off the bus and are whisked away to the dentist. They do everything from some extraction of baby teeth, gum restoration, fillings and even a root canal or two,” Smith said. “We try to make it fun, and we hope there is a ripple effect for moms and dads to understand and continue to have their children treated. The goal is to address the most pressing needs on that day. You have a child in the chair for two hours, and you want to accomplish as much as possible.”

Donya Stevens, director of the family resource center at North Washington, said she had eight students participate, and she praised the sponsors and the university for offering it.

“It’s really very difficult to get free dental treatment, and we have lots of families who struggle to be able to have dental services, so it’s a blessing to these kids. We had some kids who needed to have teeth pulled, and that will make differences down the road for them. It’s wonderful that they extend this service to us,” Stevens said.

Barbara Pettus is director of the family resource center at Washington County Elementary School, and she said the students were understandably scared, but saw great benefits from their day at the dentist.

“They were pretty nervous, and we were a little apprehensive, too,” Pettus said. “We didn’t know exactly what they would do, and the kids were scared a bit, but once it was over, they were fine, and glad to participate.”

Pettus said one child saw an especially noticeable change from the experience. Dentists were able to provide her with more than $700 worth of dental work, including filling some cavities on her lower teeth and performing some bonding work on her front teeth to repair a spacing issue.

“I have spoken with her teacher, and she said there is an incredible difference in her self esteem this morning. She feels so much better about herself,” Pettus said.

Most students received the work they needed during the one-day trip to Louisville, but Smith said others, who might be in need of more extensive work, could return for more treatment in the future. She said parents of students in need of more work will receive a letter explaining that need, and the additional work will also be free of charge.

“If they can’t get it all done in one day, U of L will follow-up with the parent or guardian, and they will come back for more work,” Smith said. “We have a rotary club that provides for that extra funding. The Prospect Goshen Rotary Club in Louisville has been a partner for about three years now, and they host a golf scramble that provides between $8,000 and $10,000 for that additional care each year.”

A total of $70,000 worth of free dental services were given on Friday to students from 21 schools  from Washington, Marion, Nelson, Shelby, and Bullitt counties. Students from 13 schools in Jefferson County are scheduled to be treated in March.

Smith added that this marks only the second time schools from Washington County have taken part in the program. In the 2007-08 school year, students from Fredericktown Elementary School were chosen to participate. Schools from a particular county are invited to take part every other year, and with a successful experience for their first time around, both Pettus and Stevens said they look forward to the opportunity to participate again in the 2011-12 school year.