3 Sisters Receive $11,000 in Life-Changing Dental Care Thanks to Save a Smile Program
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month.
Story by Eline Wiggins. Video by Tom Riehm.
Three little girls’ lives were changed when Save a Smile provided more than $11,000 in dental care to restore their smiles. Britani, Skarli and Ashley Ortiz were in so much pain from dental decay that they frequently went to the nurse’s office at school to ask for ice packs. The Save a Smile program at their school identified the Ortiz sisters because each girl had multiple abscesses and was in emergent need of dental care.
Save a Smile, which started in 2003, is in 21 elementary schools in Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Fort Worth and Keller ISDs. Save a Smile provides dental screenings at schools and identifies children who are in emergent need or pain. Save a Smile has provided over $10 million in dentistry to children in the community.
Depending on the severity of the problem, the age of the child, translation requirements and financial/insurance status, a referral is made to the appropriate volunteer dental provider. Dental care is given in the volunteer dentists' private offices, free of charge to the families. Children with CHIP or Medicaid are connected with a Medicaid/CHIP provider selected through their coverage.
The Ortiz sisters were identified as patients in the 2019-2020 school year, but some of their dental procedures were delayed due to the pandemic. After more than 15 appointments and procedures, the girls received their final appointments in June 2022. They are 5, 6, and 7 years old.
“I told my sister to be brave and to not be scared,” Ashley Ortiz, 6, said. “They are very nice people. I was happy to be in this place because they’re so nice.”
Tonya K. Fuqua, D.D.S., is the Director of Child Oral Health under the Center for Children’s Health, Children’s Oral Health Coalition and Save a Smile program. She was also the dentist who volunteered to provide dental care for the girls.
Dr. Fuqua knew the girls were afraid of going to the dentist since they had never been before. She noticed how brave they became by the last appointment.
“I got to see the transformation from dental disease to happy smiles, so I think that warms all of our hearts when we think of it that way,” Dr. Fuqua said. “When we think how the smile connects to the rest of the body, it does impact the child, from not being able to eat or to learn or to not be in pain.”
The Ortiz sisters were some of many children across the country who got behind on dental appointments and care due to the pandemic and dental office closures.
“These teeth that were just going to need fillings or stainless steel crowns now needed extractions,” Dr. Fuqua said. “Even one of the girls needed multiple extractions. That’s sad and that’s where COVID has taken us.”
The 2021-2022 school year was one of the first years that Save a Smile had well over 500 kids identified as a “class one, severe or urgent” category for needing dental care. Dr. Fuqua said that so many children have infections and abscesses. Usually, in previous years, there were 300 to 400 children considered class one.
Save a Smile has more than 86 volunteer dentists who provide children with comprehensive treatment as needed, whether it’s fillings, surgery, root canals, orthodontics, etc.
“We can’t do it without these private-practicing dentists saying yes, to opening up their doors to seeing hundreds of children for thousands of dental appointments and a ton of dental work being done,” Dr. Fuqua said. “We want to keep kids out of our emergency rooms at Cook Children’s and out of our Urgent Cares if we can – not for dental pain.”
Save a Smile community health workers will pick up students and take them to appointments if they don’t have transportation.
Jesusa Campos, Community Health Worker at Save a Smile, connects with families in need and met the three girls.
The girls’ parents were unable to attend the appointments, so Campos was there to coordinate between the parents and the dental offices. Sometimes within one week, Campos picked the girls up from school and drove them to multiple appointments.
She’s happy that the girls are doing better now and that they learned how to take care of their teeth.
“I love being able to help them to strive in life,” Campos said. “I can’t imagine having a toothache and having to go to school every day. I like helping them out and making sure they can continue healthy habits.”
A Healthy Mouth Can Lead to a Healthy Body: Rules of 2
- Brush 2 times a day
- Brush for 2 minutes
- Visit the dentist 2 times a year
For even more benefits, floss once a day and limit sugary drinks and snacks.
For more information go to the Center for Children’s Health www.healthysmilesforkids.org