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A dental hygienist from Newberry Township started a nonprofit to connect children with dental care — and it's in high demand.

Smile Connections is partnering with the York County School of Technology this Saturday, March 30, for an annual free dental exam, and 30 children already have appointments — with seven on the waiting list. 

But organizer Julie Polito, a dental hygienist, is leaving the waiting list open because people tend to cancel at the last minute, she said, and she expects to get more calls this week.

"The dental needs of children are huge," she said, whether it be because parents cannot afford it, don't have insurance or have a hard time finding a local office that will accept their insurance.

“There aren’t many places that take the state insurance," because the reimbursements are relatively low, Polito said, "and the ones that do are booked way out.” 

When children come for the exam on Saturday, they will receive preventative care such as polishing, X-rays, fluoride treatment and sealant, and if any issues are identified, Polito will then make calls to see which local offices will accept their insurance or take them on at no charge.

Medicaid recipients also are accepted, according to a flyer for the event.

More care needed: Polito told The York Dispatch last March that the event is similar to Sealant Saturday, which she has organized for the past six years with the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienist Association — focusing on preventive care by applying sealants on permanent molars.

But after seeing more and more children with untreated cavities, Polito decided to start her own nonprofit to go one step further and connect families with treatment.

Last year, 17 out of 22 children who came to the free exam had decay, and all of them were sourced and treated.

New this year is a direct connection to services through Children’s Dental Health, which accepts all state insurances. A good friend of Polito’s is a manager at the Harrisburg location and has agreed to schedule clients directly in both York County and Harrisburg.

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The event is a volunteer effort, and local sponsors  donated equipment, supplies and funding.

Dr. Lance Pietropola, a dentist who works at a practice in Dover Township and is the president of the York County Dental Society, will be giving exams with the assistance of about 20 volunteers.

York Tech dental students also volunteer during the event, helping to clean chairs, sterilize instruments and provide games and education for children who are waiting — which is really helpful because it gives them real-life clinic experience, Polito said.

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Polito, who works at Rother Dental in Cumberland County  sits on the dental assisting occupational advisory committee for York Tech and serves as an examiner during student qualification testing.

The free exams will be held 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the school, 2179 S. Queen St., in York Township. The event serves children ages 3-17. A parent or guardian must accompany children to the exam.

To request an appointment, call 717-433-8643 or email smileconnectionsforkids@gmail.com.

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