Smile Partners dental program hopes to hit the road

Organization offers preventative dental care to low-income children and seniors in Kitsap County

Organization offers preventative dental care to low-income children and seniors in Kitsap County

An 11-year-old program that offers preventative dental hygiene to low income children and seniors in the Puget Sound area is hoping to take their work on the road in their own mobile van soon.

And by donating to them during the GreatGive on May 5, their goal of buying their own mobile dental hygiene unit may come true.

According to Executive Director Imbert Matthee, Smile Partners has already received a $50,000 grant from Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority towards the $75,000 budget for a dedicated dental hygiene van to serve schools in King and Kitsap counties.

Smile Partners has also applied for additional grant money toward its goal. If additional grants are awarded, all funds raised through the GreatGive will be used to pay for treatment of low-income children who aren’t covered by insurance or whose families can’t afford the co-pay for services they need.

Matthee said in past years, Smile Partners has been able to set up its portable equipment to provide dental hygiene services inside many schools.

Recently, in many districts including the Bremerton Public Schools, rooms are not available due to increasing enrollments. Elementary schools have run out of room to set up portable classrooms and so Smile Partners has been bringing a mobile unit to serve its low-income students.

A state-mandate to reduce class size will only add to the pressure for more space.

“It’s been an issue for us at several schools,” Matthee said. “Without a place inside the schools to do the treatments, we’ve done the next best thing.”

That has been to rent a dental van and drive it from school to school. But Smile Partners hopes to purchase its own van with the grant and with community support.

The Great Give is a one-day online giving campaign in Kitsap County where anyone can give money to their favorite charity. Donations given that day have the potential to multiply through several ways including sponsors who have already given a pool of money and prizes.

Smile Partners, itself, has raised about $10,000 in challenge grants to double GreatGive and GiveBig (in King County) donations this year.

The Medical Teams International van that Smile Partners rents is a fully-equipped dentistry van which is more than what Smile Partners needs.

So, getting a van and outfitting it for its specific needs is what they plan. They want to name it the Smile Coach and hope it should be in service by this September.

Smile Partners was founded by Kate Mills and Nan Bucklin-Hawkes, of Bainbridge Island. Mills returned to Bainbridge after working in California as a direct access dental hygienist. She knew she wanted to begin that kind of practice in Washington.

So they started Washington State Smile Partners, a Bainbridge-based organization that offers direct access, preventative dental care to low-income school children and seniors in King and Kitsap counties.

Smile Partners celebrated their 10-year anniversary in March 2014.

This school year, Smile Partners has already served 7,600 patients in 77 schools across Kitsap and King counties where at least half of its students receive free or reduced lunches. It also now provides services to seniors, special needs patients and immigrants.

Aaron Leavell, superintendent of the Bremerton School District, said he was pleased with the work Smile Partners has performed in the district.

“I recommend Washington State Smile Partners to any community where the need can be met,” Leavell wrote in a recent letter.  “This caring organization works closely with our school nurses when the screenings indicate an immediate dental problem needs to be addressed. We truly consider Smile Partners and their staff a valuable partner that fits perfectly into our overall goal of keeping our students healthy and ready to learn.”

On a yearly basis, Smile Partners provides oral screenings, cleanings, fluoride varnish applications, sealants and oral health instruction and referrals. One of their goals is to get every child connected to a “dental home” since its services do not take the place of regular dental visits.

The organization’s purpose is to try to prevent tooth decay altogether and direct patients to private practices if additional work is needed.

“What we’ve learned is that if we have a consistent presence in the schools from year to year, we have the good fortune of seeing many of the same patients,” said Matthee.

“This concept of continuation of care is really important,” he said.”Good oral health at home and preventative hygiene in the schools make it conceivable for students to graduate from high school cavity-free as long as they are seen every year and that exams begin in preschool.”

Tooth decay is an epidemic for children and especially children in low-income families, both Matthee and Mills noted.

“Sometimes it’s just hard to find a dentist that will see low-income students,” Mills said.

Smile Partners funds its services by pulling from three pots of income: Medicaid and private insurance reimbursements, a low co-pay and community support through campaigns like the GreatGive.

“We’re based on being as inclusive as we can,” Matthee said.

Matthee said the $50,000 grant gets them well on their way to buying the Smile Coach.

“The timing of the PHPDA grant could not be better,” Matthee said. “This award ensures that several thousand children we will serve with the Smile Coach in the Puget Sound area have continued access to the care they need to keep their teeth healthy. We are extremely grateful to the Pacific Hospital PDA for making this possible.”

Pledging to Smile Partners on May 5 is as easy as going to Donations made to Smile Partners for the Smile Coach will also help cover the taxes, licensing fees, insurance and the first year of fuel, maintenance and safe storage.

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