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  • Sarah Waara

Bright, healthy smiles

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Chelsea Chatman-Zierk is not your typical dental hygienist. Her work place is not typical either — it’s a mobile unit set up in schools throughout the Racine Unified School District.

Every day, Chelsea sees between 10 to 15 students and can be in 1 of 12 Racine elementary schools. As a hygienist for Ascension Wisconsin’s Smart Smiles program, Chelsea provides preventive dental care to students during the school day.

So far, she’s seen more than 300 students this school year.

“When I first learned about Smart Smiles and what the program offers, I was totally blown away,” said Chelsea, who recently started working for the program. “The services we offer are really important for the students. Working with students, educating them on proper oral hygiene and providing services to them in the convenience of their school is like a dream.”

For the last 20 years, Smart Smiles has been providing preventive dental care to students in the Greater Milwaukee area. Smart Smiles currently serves 107 Milwaukee County schools and can have between six to eight sights going every day. Recently, thanks to support from the Racine Community Foundation and Ascension Wisconsin Foundation, the program has expanded to include the Racine Unified School District.

A typical Smart Smiles appointment takes under 20 minutes and consists of assessing if the student has any dental issues and an oral health screening. If needed, hygienists provide a cleaning and sealants. If there are urgent needs such as cavities or decay, hygienists refer students to an Ascension clinic.

“Our goal is to be in schools everyday treating kids. We typically stay at one location for a week or depending on the amount of participation,Chelsea said.

The need for Smart Smiles is great:

“The impact of Smart Smiles is incredible. The program has taken something that can be very stressful for families — coordinating a trip to the dentist — and made it easily accessible,” Chelsea said. “Smart Smiles opens the door for those who may have not been able to access dental care, and being able to offer this program is a truly incredible feeling.”

Smart Smiles is made possible through support from the Racine Community Foundation and generous donors to Ascension Wisconsin Foundation. A gift to Smart Smiles means that more kids in the Racine Unified School District will have access to this crucial community health program.


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