Garfield County Commissioners back local dental program

Alex Zorn

Smiles for Students, which provides dental exams for students in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle Counties, was supported by the county commissioners with $50,000 this month.

Garfield County Commissioners will continue a youth dental program that last year served 1,206 students in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties. Every year, Smiles for Students comes to schools throughout Garfield County to offer dental examinations and minor procedures for low-income families.

During the 2018-19 school year, the program will serve 13 Garfield County elementary and middle schools, said Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes.

“This program has to go on, it’s been such a success,” Commissioner John Martin said. “I’m all for it. Whatever it takes to continue.”

The commissioners at their Aug. 7 meeting supported the program, now in its 10th year, with $50,000.

SFS serves elementary and middle schools that have approximately 50 or more of their students on free or reduced lunch programs, Godes said.

She said it costs around $6,000 to host at a school, and they will be there for about a week.

SFS places a team of registered dental hygienists in the school to provide students with oral assessments, sealant application, fluoride varnish, dental cleaning, health education, and referrals to medical and dental providers. These services could cost more than $300 per child in a private dental office, according to Godes.

Original funding for the program came from the Caring for Colorado Foundation, but the funding ended this year.

The program targets students in second, third, sixth and seventh grades, as these are the grades when a child’s new molars are emerging and is the optimal time to place dental sealants and prevent cavities from forming, according to Godes.

Sealants can prevent approximately 60 percent of cavities, she said.

Over the past decade, SFS has provided 11,668 preventive dental appointments to children in 21 different schools in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.

During the 2017-2018 school year, SFS placed over 2,000 dental sealants and 262 students were referred for additional treatment needs, Godes said. Twenty percent of students had cavities, and in students with cavities, the average number was 3.07.

Over the years, appointments have included oral assessments, sealant application, fluoride varnish application, dental cleaning, health education, and referrals to medical and dental providers.

Garfield Re-2 District Nurse Sarah Bell Wright called the program a blessing and said she’s seen the long-term benefits for the students and their families firsthand.

“It’s one of the best things that can happen for the students,” she added.

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