BOZEMAN — It is not a secret that healthcare in rural Montana can be difficult.
Small communities don’t always have a dentist right down the street and if they do, those offices can be inundated with patients which is tough for working parents to be able to get their kids in for regular dental care.
Chrystal Spring saw this first-hand growing up near Fort Peck where access to care like seeing a dentist can be a big hurdle.
Spring is now a hygienist and has made it her mission to provide care for tribal communities and rural areas.
She organized a group of dentists and hygienists and formed the non-profit organization Smiles Across Montana to provide dental care to the communities that are dealing with a lack of dental care.
Some of the patients may have to travel over 100 miles to see a dentist, or if there is a dentist, they may have trouble getting in.
“Parents having a really rigorous work schedule where they couldn't get their kids to their preventative appointments,” Spring told MTN News.
That’s where Smiles Across Montana comes in. They work with these families to find the care they need. Oftentimes, it means setting up a mobile clinic right in the school.
It isn’t all about cleaning teeth either -- seeing a dentist is paramount for some of these children.
Even with roughly 15 dentists partnering up with Smiles Across Montana, it isn’t always possible for dentists to travel to these communities.
Recent changes in the law allows dentists like Dr. Nasim Aleagha from Bridger Children’s Dentistry in Bozeman to see patients without leaving the office, “tele-dentistry is now a thing, where it wasn't before.”
Using this equipment gives the hygienists the ability to take x-rays and pictures of the children’s teeth for review from the dentists.
“We have access to more outlying areas because I can have a camera show me everything and I can diagnose from another location,” Dr. Aleagha explained.
While there is a definite need to take care of immediate issues, the main goal is to provide the building blocks for life-long oral habits.
"It's really important that the dental community understands that we want to encourage fostering relationships between the hygienists and local-area dentists,” Dr Aleagha explained.
Smiles Across Montana is funded through several grants and is also supported through several insurance companies.
While they do take dental insurance and Medicaid, they also have foundations to help cover costs for people that couldn’t normally afford to see a dentist or hygienist.