Save a Smile, led by Cook Children's, provides more than free dental care for children whose families can't afford it. Watch Jared's heart-wrenching journey through our program.
Save a Smile
Founded in 2003, Save a Smile is an innovative, nationally recognized, collaborative program. We provide thorough preventive and restorative dental care for children from low-income families with the help of volunteer dentists. As a program that's led by Cook Children's, Save a Smile is guided by the same Promise: to improve the health status of every child in our region through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury.
The school-based grassroots approach of the program includes a social service model and is the key component to connecting children to the care they need.
Children eligible for the program are at high risk for dental disease and are from elementary schools pre-selected by Save a Smile and participating school districts.
Child oral health is achieved through proper preventive care and prompt treatment for dental problems for both children and pregnant women. Children with untreated dental problems may have difficulty with pain, eating, self-esteem or school attendance. In more severe cases, children need emergency care, hospitalization or surgical procedures. According to Cook Children’s most recent community health needs assessment:
- One in 7 children ages 1–17 (175,000 children) did not receive all needed dental care. This rate is nearly 9 times higher than the national estimates and 5 times higher than state estimates before the pandemic. Contributing factors were the COVID-19 pandemic, inadequate insurance to cover costs, and limited services in a family’s area.
- One in 6 children (206,000 children) did not have a preventive dental visit, which was most common with children 5 years or younger, children of color, or children from low-income families.
- Three in 10 school-age children (257,000 children) do not have excellent or very good oral health, and these children are twice as likely to miss school due to dental problems.
Children receive dental screenings (limited oral evaluations) once a year by licensed volunteer dentists to identify those with current or potential dental problems. Depending on the severity of the problem, age of the child, translation requirements and financial/insurance status, a referral is made to the appropriate volunteer dental provider.
Dental care is given in the dentists' private offices, free of charge to the families. Children with CHIP or Medicaid are connected with a Medicaid/CHIP provider selected through their coverage.
A licensed master social worker (LMSW) manages community health workers (CHW) who work in the schools with students and their families. Social service needs are typically determined after the preliminary dental screening, when the CHWs are following up with the families to pursue a course of treatment. The most frequent services provided are:
- Medical referrals and appointments
- Assistance with completing and submitting Medicaid/CHIP applications
- Financial assistance through Gill Children's Services or Masonic Home and School of Texas
- Child Protective Services reports
Save a Smile Dentists Making a Difference
The Save a Smile program is successful because of the wonderful dentists who volunteer their time and talents to help kids. These dentists are matched with qualifying patients and then they provide dental care in their offices, free of charge to the families.
The Fort Worth District Dental Society plays a vital role in providing professional guidance and recruitment support. Since the program's inception, more than $9.6 million of dental care has been provided by Save a Smile volunteer dentists/specialists.
Click here for volunteer dentist application.
Because of you, more children in our community have happier, healthier smiles.
Click here to view Save a Smile sponsors/partners, community advisory members and participating volunteer dentists/providers.
Cook Children's CEO, Rick Merrill, talks about the importance of dental health to a child's growth and development and how Save a Smile, led by Cook Children's, is making a difference for kids in our region.
See how North Texas dental care providers are generously saving smiles one child at a time through Save a Smile, led by Cook Children's.
Since the inception of the program*, we are proud to report the following results and highlights:
- 101,529 limited oral health evaluations provided
- 5,232 most severe classifications were treated
- 65,613 dental procedures provided
- More than $9.6 million in dental care provided by Save a Smile volunteer dentists/specialists
- Over 46,000 social services provided
- An average of 85% of eligible children were successfully screened and classified (71% to 92%)
- The most healthy children (Class 3) increased from 64% to 80%
- The number of children with minimal to moderate oral health problems (Class 2) trends downward (26% to 13%)
- The number of children with the most severe dental disease (Class 1) decreased (14% to 7%)
*As of August 2020
Click here for FY20 highlights.
Questions or comments
If you have any questions or would like more information about our program, please email Tonya K. Fuqua, D.D.S.