Program brings Flathead dentists in for school visits


KALISPELL, Mont. - No need to make a dentist appointment for some Flathead kids -- turns out a local dentist is coming to them. Sealants for Smiles is a program where any child in a school can get a free oral exam if their parents OK it.

Many parents can't get their children anywhere near a dentist office, but these little kids are counting down the minutes. Mackie Huestis explained his secret for keeping his teeth clean.

"Brush your teeth, every single day," says Huestis.

Sealants for Smiles is a statewide program that provides preventive dental services for children in schools. Local Kalispell dentists and hygienists are camping out in Cornelius Hedges library providing oral exams.

"Honestly, this is the single most rewarding thing I have ever done professionally. There is something really magical about knowing that you're really contributing to the health and wellbeing of children," said Jane Gillette, Sealants for Smiles director.

Dental decay is the No. 1 chronic childhood disease in the United States. Students lose 52 million classroom hours due to teeth problems.

Dr. James Cannava explained school checkups can be better for children then in the actual office.

"They are a little timid, but it helps here because they can see their peers get the dental exam and get the fluoride varnish painted on their teeth. So the kids have been fantastic," said Cannava.

Sealants for Smiles program started in Montana in 2011, and this year the program has expanded. They will be providing care to about 8,000 kids in schools across Montana.

Aubrey Congdon walked NBC Montana through her experience: "First I had to lay down and they counted my teeth. Second, they put medicine on my teeth. They gave me a little bag and I got to pick out a prize," said Congdon.

It's changing the bad images some children have of the dentist.

"They rip out your teeth sometimes," said Huestis.

Organizers hope to make each smile brighter, one child at a time.