On a Saturday morning last summer, a grandmother made the decision to take her two grandchildren to a local community service event presented by the SmileHealthy Program, a non-profit organization housed within Promise Healthcare, in Champaign, Ill. The youngest grandchild complained of intense pain throughout his mouth and prompted the visit. Due to a fixed income, the grandmother was unable to send the child to a regular dentist for treatment. During the service event, the grandmother learned he was in need of extensive dental treatments to remedy his oral health.
Immediately, the team at SmileHealthy stepped into action to help this child. Since the child had several cavities, he would need to go under general anesthesia to receive treatment. An appointment was scheduled for the child to be seen at PROPS (Pediatric Restorative Outpatient Surgery Program). PROPS is a program where low-income children can receive several critical dental treatments in a single visit while under general anesthesia. The operating room, anesthesiologist and nurse are donated by Presence Covenant Medical Center, and SmileHealthy provides a dentist and assistant to treat children one Friday every month. The child received eight fillings free of charge through the SmileHealthy PROPS program.
Additionally, the grandmother and her grandchildren learned just how important preventive care, including regular dental visits, is to good oral health and overall well-being. And now, the grandmother and her two grandchildren have established a foundation for a lifetime of good oral health, visiting the SmileHealthy Dental Center, their dental home, every six months for their regularly scheduled dental check-ups.
This summer community service event, where the grandmother and her grandchildren received much needed oral health care, was designed to call attention to the importance of maintaining good oral health and offer members of the community an opportunity to seek treatment from dental professionals. This story is just one of many and is one of the many reasons the SmileHealthy program exists. If the SmileHealthy Program was not available, this young child and countless others may not have access to the dental care they need and would continue to be in discomfort and pain, and possibly have the oral health condition lead to infection. SmileHealthy, located in Champaign, is a compilation of the SmileHealthy Dental Center, Head Start Dental Clinic, Mobile Dental Program, Dental Health Education, and PROPS. SmileHealthy’s programs work to improve the oral health of the community by providing preventive care, treatment and education. The SmileHealthy program began in 2003 as a way to address the oral health needs of low-income residents of Champaign. Nancy Greenwalt, Executive Director of Promise Healthcare, describes the SmileHealthy program as quite unique as it provides a broad range of services for oral healthcare for Champaign County.
“Many community health centers have dental programs, but the SmileHealthy program is different and unique in that it is a FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center) and has a mobile dental unit. We not only serve individuals in our clinic, but we also are able to expand our services beyond our walls,” said Greenwalt. “If you add up all the components of SmileHealthy, there are not many oral health programs in the state or nationally that offer the same breadth of dental services and community outreach.”
In 2013, Promise Healthcare received the Wisdom Tooth Award from the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation to help fund SmileHealthy over a two year period from 2014 to 2015. The Wisdom Tooth Award helped provide the funds needed to open its dental clinic for an additional day each week and to expand its mobile clinic services to three days per week. The award has also helped improve the connection and coordination of all Promise Healthcare services and sites to more effectively educate families about the importance of oral health at a young age in an effort to reduce the need for more comprehensive services by stressing preventive efforts.
In 2014, SmileHealthy’s clinical programs provided 10,294 treatments to 2,205 children. In addition, the SmileHealthy’s dental education project reached more than 8,400 community members, teaching young families the importance of good oral health habits. SmileHealthy also worked with 485 families to encourage scheduling a visit to the dentist during their regular doctor appointment.
The need for low-cost and free dental care services is significant in Illinois, and the SmileHealthy program continues to grow to meet the need. Since the need is so great, one of the challenges the SmileHealthy program faces is the ability to expand its services and facilities at a fast enough rate to provide dental care to the many Illinois residents who need it.
“There is a great demand for our services in our community, and we need funding to be able expand and meet the need for oral health care among our residents,” said Greenwalt. “We feel very fortunate to have received the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation’s support. Organizations, such as the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, allow us to continue to provide excellent oral health care to the underserved community.”