ST MARYS — Many South St. Marys Street Elementary School students left school with a bigger, brighter smile during the last week of January.

“Big Smiles,” a Michigan-based, in-school dental program subdivided into “PA Smiles,” offers dental services to children who may not have affordable access to dental care. Those services include cleaning and fluoride, sealants and fillings and simple extractions. The program uses the latest technology in portable equipment, and a staff of licensed dentists, hygienists and assistants to travel and care for students, according to www.bigsmilesdental.org.

LaRissa Taylor, team leader for the western Pennsylvania PA Smiles staff, said the company contracts with school districts, serving students up to high-school age.

Many people are misinformed or uneducated when it comes to dental hygiene, or just simply don’t have the financial means to go to the dentist, Taylor said.

Bringing dentistry services into schools not only makes it convenient, but alleviates the fear factor of visiting a dentist’s office, something children often dislike, Taylor said. Dental Assistant Denise Strattan added that school is a place with which the children are familiar, making the process easier.

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Dental Hygienist Jacy Mietus said she has seen some sad situations in schools, since some students haven’t been to a dentist in too long, or at all. It’s rewarding to bring these services to these children, she said.

Timothy Gould has been a dentist for nearly 40 years. Interacting with children in a school setting is something he enjoys, he said.

Depending on the situation, the PA Smiles team also will refer children to a local dentist for services they are unable to perform, such as a root canal, Taylor said.

SSMSES Principal Chrissy Kuhar said many families took advantage of the program, showing that it is a valuable service to the school community.

Grant forms are available for students, Taylor added. Any nearby school district interested in the services can contact 1-888-833-8441, ext. 60174. For more information, visit www.bigsmilesdental.org.

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