The goals of Project Saving Smiles are to:
- reduce dental cavities
- decrease school absences due to oral health problems
Dental sealants are applied to the deep grooves of back teeth to prevent cavities. Sealants, at times, may need to be reapplied to remain protective to the teeth. Fluoride varnish is a protective coating painted over tooth surfaces to help prevent new cavities and to stop early cavities.
Project Saving Smiles targets elementary schools in the Houston area, which have 50% or more students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Participating schools provide bus transportation for their students to and from the Project Saving Smiles location.
According to the 2000 Surgeon General’s Report, more than 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness. Additionally, children who experience pain from tooth problems are likely to be distracted and unable to concentrate on their school work.
In 2001, 45.9% of children 6-9 years of age in Harris County had untreated dental caries, and in 2015, 31.0% of children 6-9 years of age in Harris County had untreated dental caries.
Using an evidence-based dental public health approach, Project Saving Smiles provides dental screenings, dental sealants, fluoride varnish, and oral health education free of charge to second graders attending schools with ≥50% free and reduced lunch program rates.
The Houston Health Department spearheads this project and partners with the following organizations to provide these preventive services:
- Department of State Health Services
- Women of Rotary
- Texas Oral Health Coalition – Houston Region
- University of Texas School of Dentistry
- Houston Community College
- University of Texas School of Public Health
- Local schools
- Latter-day Saints Missionaries – Houston area
- Other private practice partners
For the 2023-24 school year, Project Saving Smiles plans for eight missions in the following school districts:
- Houston ISD (four missions at the West End multi-service center)
- Aldine ISD
- Alief ISD
- Klein ISD (Klein and Spring ISD)
- Fort Bend ISD (Fort Bend and Alvin ISD)