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Volunteer program helps students receive dental care

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KALISPELL, Mont. - It's not all partying on Saint Patrick's Day. Seven dentist offices volunteered their time Friday to give free checkups to students at Evergreen Elementary and Glacier Gateway.

Through a program called Sealants for Smiles, dentists, hygienists and dental assistants from all over the state are offering their time to make sure kids have a good foundation in oral health.

It's an uncommon sight during school to see students line up one-by-one to see a dentist.

Some were worried.

"I don't even exactly know what we're doing," Evergreen Elementary fourth grader Tavin Bacon said.

Others said they know going to the dentist is a good thing.

"Dentists help your teeth. That way you don't have to have fake teeth," Evergreen Elementary fourth grader Michael Pendergrass said.

And that's exactly what Sealants for Smiles hopes to do. Dentist Gabriel Dawson is a graduate of Evergreen Elementary and is one of the 35 volunteers throughout the valley on Saint Patrick's Day.

"That's kind of the idea here is we can do really extensive screenings, take a look at kids, make sure things are going OK, and if maybe something is going on we can send them home with a little note saying, 'Hey you might want to check this out,'" Dawson said.

The program started at Willow Creek six years ago and has transformed to serving over 12,000 students throughout the state, including almost every school in Flathead County.

"We've had principals calling and teachers saying like, 'Hey they're going to this school.' And that's been a big way that we've been able to see more kiddos," dental hygienist Cooke Thompson said. "The reason why we can see more schools is because we have more volunteers from dentists, assistants and hygienists."

Dawson said, "It's pretty awesome to come back and be able to take care of little kids. Just the way I was in kindergarten and first grade, it's been great."

That attitude has allowed students all throughout Montana to walk away with a clean smile.

Altogether for 2016-2017, the program will serve 107 schools with 540 volunteers.?

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