Smile! That’s the aim of a traveling dental clinic that’s the first of its kind in Iowa. Mike DeAnda is CEO at the Des Moines Health Clinic and explains the “Smile Squad” travels to area grade schools. There’s a dentist and two assistants on board, who do extractions, fillings and other procedures that “children don’t like,” he says. The “Smile Squad” began in a dental-health program based in 48 Des Moines area schools where DeAnda says they find about 3500 kids a year who need dental care, 700 or more of those urgent needs like abscessed teeth or very bad cavities. DeAnda says the parents often can’t afford the care those children need. He says people think if it doesn’t hurt, there’s no problem, but DeAnda says while a scratch that’s untreated will heal, dental problems just keep getting worse until they “blow up.” In addition to the Smile Squad’s capital-city rounds, the fully-equipped van has been used by volunteers giving free dental care for one-day events, and others have asked about taking it to other towns. The grade schools in Des Moines being served now were chosen for their high proportion of kids getting free lunches for low-income families, so they could satisfy donors they’re meeting the greatest need. The mobile dental van is funded by local foundations like Delta Dental, Prairie Meadows, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Mid-Iowa Health Foundation. With more staff and funding, DeAnda says the “Smile Squad” may expand its range as time goes on.
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