Ready Set Smile was founded out of a Minneapolis private practice, ADT Dental. For the past 14 years, ADT Dental has offered an annual day of free dental services, Give Kids a Smile, focusing on the children of Jefferson Community School, a neighborhood school. Over time, we witnessed a marked deterioration in the oral health of the children in this community, due in large part to the significant increase in poverty levels. In fact, in the 2012-2013 Jefferson school year, 95% of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch (an indicator of poverty) and 13% were identified as homeless or highly mobile (HHM). The negative outcomes of poverty impact kids’ physical health and disrupts academic progress. Treating kids one day a year was great but there had to be a better way! How could we provide preventive dental health for children and families under the toxic stress of poverty?
About the same time we were asking these questions, the first mid-level dental practitioners, the dental therapist, were graduating into our professional community. (The licensure of dental therapist was legislated by our great State of Minnesota to increase access to care for the underserved.) At ADT Dental, we saw an opportunity to help close the underserved gap at Jefferson Community School. We hired a dental therapist, not only to help us with a plan for Jefferson, but to increase access to the underserved within our own private practice.
Since the winter of 2012, we have been working tirelessly on a school based program for Jefferson based on best practices. Our first champion was Principal Bridget Hall who understood the dire oral health needs of her students. Meeting after meeting followed to strategize next steps. Other experts and organizations were engaged. Staff at Minneapolis Public Schools encouraged us to create an official 501(c)3. So we did.
RSS became official in the Spring of 2013! A Board of Directors enthusiastically came together. We caught the eye of the national Pew Foundation, who directed us to a highly successful school-based program in Massachusetts. ForsythKids of Cambridge agreed to mentor our program, which is modeled after their best practices.
Since our first year, we have added four additional schools all with low-resource families and three preschool programs. Our growth has been fast over the last three years and our data exceptional in demonstrating that these simple techniques reduce decay in this population.