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Creating Healthy Smiles

One of the greatest things in the world is the smile of a child. But if that child is in constant pain from lack of dental care, or embarrassed about their teeth – they may not smile.

Usually, a person doesn’t wait very long before calling our dentist to fix the issue. However, many children in the Sioux Empire do not have resources when it comes to their oral health care. 

Tooth pain can affect a child’s ability to eat, sleep, speak and socialize- all affecting their development. Research shows that children with poor oral health are more likely to miss school and earn lower grades.  It is estimated that 51 million school hours a year are lost due to dental related illnesses. Tooth decay, left untreated, can lead to malnourishment, bacterial infections, emergency room visits and pain.

Dental cavities are the most common chronic disease in children. It is five times more common than asthma. Forty-five percent of US children and 56% of South Dakota children suffer from tooth decay and 22% of South Dakota children go untreated.

Seeing a need for better access to oral health care in the Sioux Empire, United Way invested in two programs to make getting a child’s teeth cleaned and inspected both affordable and accessible.

Sioux Empire Smiles is a free one day comprehensive dental clinic for children 18 and under. The program aims to target children, who are uninsured, under insured, in pain, have not recently seen a dentist, or who cannot for whatever reason obtain dental care.

Dr. Damon Thielen, Pediatric Dentist and current program director of Sioux Empire Smiles says that while Sioux Empire has numerous options for pediatric, general, or school based dentistry, there are obvious disparities which still remain. Last year’s Sioux Empire Smiles event served 109 children.

“At last year’s event, we started very early, and in fall that meant in the dark,” said Dr. Thielen. “The family that was the first to arrive in the darkness of morning was incredibly appreciative of the care they received. In fact, I remember the smile on that young girls face while getting a big hug from our princess impersonators after treatment that day.”

Delta Dental of South Dakota’s Mobile Dental Program provides free oral health services to children who lack access to dental care because of cost or lack of insurance.

Molly Satter, Health Services Supervisor for the Sioux Falls School District, helps to coordinate the Delta Dental Mobile visits to the Sioux Falls Schools.

“Sometimes students have complaints of not being able to eat, or teachers will notice the student is not able to focus in class or that something is just ‘off’,” said Satter. “Most often though, students come in with complaints of pain and it’s usually once the pain and the dental issues are very bad. It is amazing how much pain these students learn to live with.”

Sioux Empire United Way has has funded four weeks within the Sioux Falls School District since 2008 and will be doubling that to eight weeks in 2017, helping more than 200 students.

“The bottom line is these students are in need of dental care and the Delta Dental Mobile is our chance to get them help, so they are healthy and able to learn,” said Satter.

Your gift to Sioux empire United Way is making smiles happen through these two incredible dental programs. If you’d like to make a gift to support these and 80 other local programs, click here.