The team of Altarum’s SmileConnect.org, is focused on providing free oral healthcare resources and services to children across Michigan. As described in a previous blog, SmileConnect.org offers a unique platform that allows educators and community organizations to request oral health resources and services, which are viewable by SmileConnect’s volunteer and donor base who can directly connect with them to fulfill the need. Since its launch in Michigan in 2016, SmileConnect℠ has partnered with dental schools, dental hygiene schools, oral health suppliers, manufacturers, and philanthropic organizations, providing more than 2,000 children with oral health supplies, education, and resources. However, until recently, SmileConnect℠ had yet to reach a goal aligned with its core mission-to provide low-cost, high-impact preventative oral health services to children in the community who face access-related disparities.
Cost-effective oral health services can prevent cavities, gum disease, and children’s tooth decay. Preventative services, such as fluoride varnish application, are especially important for children, because they are highly effective ways to help ensure that children’s newly developing adult teeth come in strong and healthy. However, not every child receives these critical preventative oral health services. Many families continue to encounter transportation or cost barriers that hinder them from getting their child to the medical or dental office. Through SmileConnect’s novel social networking system, oral health providers and dental students can directly connect to provide preventative services to children in their communities at no charge. Further, these providers are able to provide preventative oral health services in the most comfortable setting for the patients: their local community. In late October, SmileConnect℠ held its first successful preventative oral health service event, assisting one of the most vulnerable communities, Syrian refugees resettling in Detroit.
Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S. face great challenges. Often, refugees have had to wait for many years before entering the country, during which time they go through screenings and live in United Nation refugee camps. Within only 3 months of their arrival in the U.S., most of the assistance they receive from public resettlement programs is terminated. This leaves vulnerable children without access to basic care. That is when other community organizations, like the Syrian American Rescue Network (SARN) get involved. Recently, SARN reached out to Smile Connect℠, requesting that we use our online platform to connect the refugee population resettling in Detroit with much needed preventative oral health resources and services as part of an upcoming, monthly held, Syrian Refugee Wellness Event.
Once the SARN request went public on the SmileConnect℠ website and the other SmileConnect℠ social media pages, several of our dentists and dental hygienist volunteers immediately indicated that they wanted to help. The news continued to spread, and organizations such as the St. Vincent de Paul Dental Clinic, students from the University of Detroit Mercy Dental School, and many local dentists, all signed up to provide oral health screenings and preventative services for the event.
The SARN Wellness Event was held Sunday October 30th, with over 200 Syrian refugees in attendance. Thanks to SmileConnect’s generous network of volunteers and donors, 6 amazing dental professionals, and countless other volunteers were able to provide preventative dental services to 130 children. All the children received oral screenings, oral hygiene education, dental supplies, and fluoride varnish application. Parents and caregivers were also informed about insurance programs available to them like Healthy Kids Dental. For many of the children, this was the first time they had ever been seen by a dental provider. Oral screenings indicated that these children needed more extensive dental treatment. The condition of some children’s oral health was so poor that dentists reached out to colleagues on site, placing calls to coordinate the delivery of advanced care and medicines to treat oral infections. This SmileConnect℠ preventative services event was essential to this community because they face a variety of challenges that may prevent them from seeking additional dental care.
This successful connection highlights how SmileConnect℠ can work to bring dental services, supplies, and volunteers together to provide preventative dentistry to children right in their local community. Through this innovative online platform, Altarum Institute hopes to reduce the incidence of dental caries, and address access-related barriers to high-quality, low-cost preventative services, one connection at a time.
This event, and other SmileConnect℠ events, would not have been possible without the participation of volunteer dental professionals, dental students, and the generous donations from SmileConnect℠ donors. If you are interested in getting involved or would like to learn ways to help support the sustainability of SmileConnect℠ efforts, please email info@SmileConnect.org or visit our website here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @SmileConnected.
Join SmileConnect℠ on Tuesday, November 29th for #GivingTuesday! Learn more about our efforts at www.GoFundMe.com/SmileConnect
Looking for another way to give back? Do you shop on Amazon.com? If you shop through Smile.Amazon.Com, you can choose a charity (Altarum Institute), and .5% of your qualifying purchase will go back to our nonprofit charity for SmileConnect!
CMS Disclaimer: The project described was supported by Grant Number 1C1CMS331321 from the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or any of its agencies.