Giving Kids a Reason to Smile: EveryStep's I-Smile Program

“Kids can’t learn in school if they don’t eat nutritious food,” said Heidi Ball, health and nutrition manager for Drake University Head Start. “And they can’t eat nutritious food if they have rotting teeth.”

In February, those words are particularly significant in light of National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Getting uninsured and underinsured children the dental care they need to thrive is the goal of the Iowa Department of Public Health program offered by EveryStep. The I-Smile™ program, which began in 2006, reaches all 99 counties, providing pregnant women and children under the age of 12 with dental screenings and fluoride treatments, referring dental providers, assisting in transportation and payment needs.

In 2018, EveryStep assisted more than 2,094 children and pregnant women to receive dental screenings, oral health education sessions and referrals to providers for dental concerns and emergencies.

Each year, more than 800 children in the Drake University Head Start program receive dental screenings and fluoride treatments through the organization’s longstanding partnership with EveryStep, which coordinates the I-Smile™ program in Dallas, Polk, Clinton, and Jackson counties. 

Through the partnership with Drake University Head Start in Polk County, EveryStep coordinates with hygienists to conduct dental screening and fluoride varnish services.

If the hygienist thinks the child needs to be seen by the dentist, Drake Head Start and EveryStep work to determine the family’s insurance coverage and refer an I-Smile™ dental provider, if needed. Ball estimates that about 17 children each session will be referred for further dental work after screenings.

“There are a lot of obstacles with our families,” Ball notes. “Some don’t have insurance or some are unable to transport their child to the dentist. I-Smile™ does a great job to help us get families connected. They can tell us what dentists are taking new families, or let us know what providers will accept Medicaid.”

Ball recalled a particular case in the past, in which EveryStep was able to help a family after it was discovered the child had severe decade. In that instance, EveryStep was able to set up a dental visit and helped coordinate with the surgical unit at a local hospital to have the child’s teeth worked on. 

“That was just huge for us, because the family was unable to do that on their own,” Ball notes. “It was such severe decay, they needed the extra assistance.”

It all starts with getting a professional look in the child’s mouth. From there, the organizations work for the best result for the child.

“It’s a really great partnership that benefits our families,” Ball said. “They don’t have to decide ‘do we pay to put food on the table or do we pay to go to the dentist.’”

EveryStep collaborates with many other organizations, agencies, healthcare providers and non-profits to serve our communities' most vulnerable populations. Learn more at