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Traveling South Dakota Miles to Create Smiles

July 30, 2009

MURDO, S.D. - The U.S. Surgeon General has identified dental and oral disease as a silent epidemic in children, with more than 51 million school hours lost each year to dental-related illnesses. To address the issue in South Dakota, Delta Dental South Dakota is helping children smile again by partnering with the state Department of Health, community health centers and others to treat kids who lack access to dental care.

Megan Schwinger is a dental assistant with Delta Dental South Dakota. She is traveling across the state this summer with a fully equipped mobile dental office, called the Smile Mobile. Recent visits have been to the state's community health centers, where she says they are treating up to 35 children per week, ages zero to 21. The work is rewarding, she adds.

"With the economy the way it is, these people are coming out of jobs where they used to have dental insurance and now they don't. So they're really, truly grateful to receive our help. Forty-eight percent of the people we serve have no insurance to very little insurance, like Medicaid or CHIP."

Schwinger says the Smile Mobile offers a full range of services, from cavity fillings and extractions to cleanings and oral instructions. She says the free services provided by the Smile Mobile are important because many insurance companies do not provide dental coverage.

"Cavities and oral disease can lead to bigger problems. So to have dental care that we can actually give out for free is really important. So many people need dental care."

The Smile Mobile employs a wide range of dental professionals, including dental students and visiting dentists from around the state who volunteer their time. It is in Murdo today, with a stop in Sioux Falls planned for next week. Upcoming visits this summer include Porcupine, Isabel, Faith, Gettysburg and Woonsocket. Appointments in all communities may be made by calling 605-295-0099.

David Law, Public News Service - SD