Smile Squad on the road

Grade 6 student Sunday with Oral Health Therapist Renae. (Joe Mastroianni) 235653_01

Goya Dmytryshchak

Pupils at Footscray City and Albion North primary schools were among the first beneficiaries of free dental check-ups, with Smile Squad vans back on the road after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state government last week announced a major expansion of the free Smile Squad dental program, with 161 more primary and secondary schools invited to take part in term two.

Smile Squad vans visit schools providing free check-ups and treatment, including teeth cleaning, fluoride application, fissure sealants, fillings, root canals and other non-cosmetic treatments.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the pandemic had caused the suspension of all non-urgent public dental procedures, including Smile Squad vans, from March last year.

“A quarter of children in Victoria have untreated tooth decay,“ he said.

“Treating it can be expensive. That’s why we’ve brought the dental van back, to give kids free, convenient check-ups at schools across the state.”

The program is delivered by cohealth.

Oral health lead Julia McLellan said it was exciting to be taking the Smile Squad vans back to schools after a year on hold.

“Access to high quality healthcare and good oral health is central to a person’s overall health and wellbeing and can have a positive impact on their quality of life and social interactions,“ she said.

“But due to financial barriers and low health literacy, children from disadvantaged backgrounds often don’t get the dental care they need.“

Dental disease is the leading cause of preventable hospitalisation in Australian children, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent health conditions affecting one third of children by the age five or six and 40 per cent of children by age 12-14.

More than 500 schools and 200,000 students are expected to participate in this year’s program.