OU College of Dentistry joins "Little Smiles" program to help Oklahomans receive dental care

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) - It's called the "Little Smiles" program, and that's exactly what it's creating.

“We get to teach them, you know, we’re preventing a bad thing,” said Moore Norman Technology Student Tobi Powell.

Tuesday mornings during the spring semester, the MNTC dentist lab fills up.

Students, teachers, kids all piling in for the "Little Smiles" program.

It allows 200 Norman Public Schools students of all ages to get free dental work.

The district surveys the kids every year.

Beth Roberson, the health services coordinator for the district, says they have about 800 students in need of dental care but only those 200 are urgent.

“There’s about 10 percent of the students that have never been to the dentist, so through a screening, we identify those students and know which ones have severe dental needs,” added Norman Regional Health Foundation Executive Director Erin Barnhart.

School leaders say a lot of those dental needs, stem from a lack of access to a dentist.

“A lot of times parents can’t take off work or when they do it costs them pay, so a lot of times a preventive visit is a thing that goes astray,” said Dir. of the Delta Dental Oklahoma Foundation Terrisa Singleton.

"Little Smiles" isn't a new program, last year they covered about $45,000 worth of dental costs.

Last fall, OU students got involved allowing the care to move from just four times a year to now once a week.

Students are getting real experience with kids, before ever graduating.

“We do cleanings, exams... but we’ll even do pulps and crowns. If kids are in pain we’ll do extractions,” said 4th year OU dentistry student Kate Littlefield.

The MNTC students are just as hands-on.

They teach kids not only how to brush and floss, but what a normal visit to the dentist looks like.

“Like how to breathe in the Nitrous and make it fun and distracting. You know we call it astronaut air,” said Powell.

The program is so successful, they have no plans of stopping anytime soon.

“We plan on continuing this program. However, my goal is that that number reduce. We’re seeing about 200 kids now so hopefully, in about 5 to 10 years, we’ll see those numbers start to come down,” said Roberson.

The program is possible because of a $6,000 grant from Delta Dental.

It's a large collaboration between Delta Dental, Norman Regional, The University of Oklahoma, Norman Public Schools, the state health department, and MNTC.

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