The Children’s Trust of Alachua County has awarded the University of Florida College of Dentistry, or UFCD, a one-year, $100,000 provider grant to support the college’s Saving Smiles Program. The mission of the UFCD Saving Smiles Program is to promote the oral health of Alachua County’s children through no-cost, community-based dental outreach programs focused on education, disease prevention and accessibility.
“I am so thankful to the Children’s Trust for prioritizing the health of Alachua County’s children,” UFCD clinical assistant professor, Olga S. Ensz, D.M.D., M.P.H., director of the college’s Saving Smiles Program said. “Oral health is clearly linked to overall physical, mental and emotional health, and this support directly addresses a significant need in our community.”
“We want to ensure our children have every opportunity for good oral health and reduce the barriers that prohibit families from dealing with their dental care needs. Dr. Ensz and Saving Smiles help to achieve that goal. We are pleased to partner with UFCD and see the collective impact of working together with our community partners,” Marsha Kiner, Executive Director of the Children’s Trust of Alachua County, said.
The UFCD Saving Smiles Program collaborates with community partners to deliver no-cost, prevention-focused dental services for children who face challenges in accessing oral health care. Dental treatments are provided for pediatric patients ages six months to 17 years old, and services ranging from dental exams and cleanings to fillings and extractions are included. The Saving Smiles Program uses portable dental equipment to provide oral health care on-site at schools and community centers, primarily in East Gainesville and rural areas of Alachua County. As part of the program, parents and guardians also receive individualized oral hygiene education and nutrition counseling to positively impact home care.
Tooth decay is the No. 1 most common chronic disease in children and, if left untreated, can result in pain, infection, difficulty eating and speaking, and poorer school performance. In fact, dental disease costs Florida’s children an estimated three million school hours each year.
“Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers that many children and families face when it comes to accessing dental care, including cost, lack of dental insurance, long wait times for appointments and transportation,” Ensz said. “In the 2020 Alachua County Community Health Needs Assessment, 62% of Alachua County residents reported cost as the primary reason why their child or children were unable to receive needed dental care.”
Funding from the Children’s Trust of Alachua County will provide salary support for the dental auxiliary team members who deliver care to patients and coordinate program operations and will help support the purchase of oral hygiene goodie bags for 3,500 children.
ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY DENTISTRY AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE
Since 2010, the Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science has conducted annual county-wide oral health screenings of third-grade students in Alachua County Public Schools. In fall 2021, 40% of third graders had untreated tooth decay, and about 1-in-10 third graders were found to have urgent dental issues such as tooth pain or dental abscesses. The Saving Smiles Program directly connects these children with much-needed dental care in safe and convenient settings throughout Alachua County.
ABOUT THE CHILDREN’S TRUST OF ALACHUA COUNTY
Established in 2018, the Children’s Trust of Alachua County aims to facilitate equitable access and opportunities for children and families in Alachua County, including ensuring the healthy development of our community’s youth. Support from the Children’s Trust of Alachua County for community programs focused on the health, safety, education, and enrichment of children strives to ensure that every child has the resources to thrive and achieve their maximum potential.