The Iowa Department of Public Health program which helps kids get the proper dental care held steady in the past year at a little more than 50,000 cases.

Department oral health consultant Stephanie Chickering says that goes a little against past trends for what they call the “I-Smile” program.
“Generally our numbers increase every year — and so 54,000 is pretty stable from last year,” she says. “But notably, we’ve provided more than 500-thousand services since 2006.”

She says they have helped a variety of different kids. “We target high-risk children who maybe are lower socio-economic status. But we also will provide services to just about any child who has some sort of a dental need,” Chickering says. Chickering — who is a dental hygienist — says getting the kids to the dentist can make a difference beyond helping them prevent cavities and having a nice smile. “We do know that children with dental problems can have trouble eating, speaking, so they have issues developing. They can have trouble interacting with peers and with adults,” according to Chickering. “So, it is really more about full-body health and being able to develop and learn appropriately.”

Chickering says it not unusual to find a child who has acted out has done so because they had tooth pain or dental issues. “Which is an unfortunate way to get that attention, but that’s kind of how that shows up in very young. So, a child may’ve been disciplined for acting out — but all they were really trying to do was get somebody to notice the pain in their mouth,” Chickering explains.

And Chickering says feeling good about your smile can help kids feel good overall about themselves. She says the program is paid for in part through a state funding. “We also get some federal funding, and we also receive some match dollars from the Iowa Medicaid program,” Chickering says. “In Iowa we are fortunate that dental hygienists who work with Title Five screening centers in Iowa are able to bill Medicaid for service. So we are able to utilize that reimbursement within our programs.” Chickering says there is a lot of demand and funds are always tight, so they try hard to make the most out of what is available.

There are 23 I-Smile coordinators around the state who are responsible for working with children and families; dentists and dental office staff; medical providers; school nurses, teachers and administrators; businesses; civic organizations; and social service organizations. The coordinators work for county health departments or private, non-profit organizations to administer I-Smile in all 99 Iowa counties