Something to Smile About

The Molar Express and East Bay Smiles break down barriers to pediatric dental care

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Fourteen years ago, East Bay Community Action Program’s dental clinic was bursting at the seams. The nonprofit whose mission is to offer high quality comprehensive health services to East Bay residents, regardless of insurance or financial status, devised a creative way to serve more of the East Bay community by bringing their quality dental care directly to the kids.

Enter The Molar Express, a 42-foot-long mobile dental office. Together with their East Bay Smiles program, which uses portable equipment that can be set up in schools, they serve nearly one thousand K-12 students, plus four Head Start programs, throughout the East Bay.

“The East Bay spans ten cities and towns and our clinic is based at our offices in Newport,” EBCAP’s communications director Maggie Laurianno explains. “For people living in East Providence or Bristol County, simply getting their kids to the clinic can be an enormous barrier. The Molar Express and East Bay Smiles removes that barrier.”

Both The Molar Express and the East Bay Smiles program cover preventative maintenance as well as treat more extensive dental issues, from fillings to root canals. Their dental team is acutely aware that for many kids going to the dentist can be a scary experience. Kim Durand, who leads the dental program, says that they focus on clearly explaining what the kids can expect at the appointment. For the more apprehensive little ones, they’re not against singing a goofy song or telling a silly joke to help with jitters.

All their dental programs take insurance, which helps fund the initiative, but no one is turned down for treatment, explains Durand. They also rely on grants and private donations to cover the costs.

Carolyn Martin, school nurse at the Pell School in Newport, estimates that 40 percent of their students take advantage of the program. “There’s not much a school nurse can do when students complain of tooth pain. Often the kids miss school because of it. There are barriers that keep parents from being able to get their kids dental treatment, whether it’s a language barrier, a transportation barrier, an insurance barrier. This removes those barriers so kids can stay in school and be healthy.”

“Healthy kids can focus on learning while feeling good about themselves,” adds Laurianno.

That leads to big, beautiful smiles all around.