More than 4,000 underserved elementary school children in Texas have received free preventative dental care in the last six years thanks to a program started by a 2010 graduate of the Temple College Dental Hygiene program.

Jennifer Banton says she first saw the need to provide free dental care for underserved residents when she participated in a Texas Mission of Mercy mobile dental clinic as a requirement for her community dentistry class.

After she completed her dental hygiene training, Banton began volunteering for the Smiles Foundation, which sponsors the Texas Mission of Mercy program. In 2013, she decided to start her own program to help children in her hometown of Burnet.

“A little boy ran up to me at soccer practice, excited about scoring a goal, and I saw cavities between his front teeth,” Banton recalls. “His parents didn’t know about it, but they were able to take care of it as soon as it was identified.”

Second-year dental hygiene students provide free preventative dental care to children at Colt Ele...Second-year dental hygiene students provide free preventative dental care to children at Colt Elementary School in Marble Falls Nov. 1 as part of the SMART Smiles program started by dental hygiene graduate Jennifer Banton.Banton named her program SMART Smiles, which stands for Saving, Maintaining, and Retaining Their Smiles. She has recruited dentists, hygienists and other volunteers who want to help make free dental hygiene services available to children through the public schools. The program targets elementary schools where at least 55% of the students are on the free or reduced lunch program.

Since it was started, SMART Smiles has delivered more than $1.1 million worth of care to underserved elementary school children.

Second-year dental hygiene students from Temple College have been helping Banton with her program almost from the start, and many alumni continue to volunteer for the program after they graduate. On a recent Friday, Temple College students contributed more than $15,000 of care to children at an elementary school in Marble Falls.

“I am always so proud when Temple College is represented at our events!” Banton said.

Jennifer Banton displays the Alumni of the Year award she recently received from Workforce Soluti...Jennifer Banton displays the Alumni of the Year award she recently received from Workforce Solutions of Central Texas. Banton received the award for her efforts to bring quality dental care to underserved populations.Banton has received several awards for her work, including KVUE-TV’s Five Who Care award in 2015 and the Texas Dental Association’s Community Service Award in 2018. Just recently, she received the Alumni of the Year Award from Workforce Solutions of Central Texas. Banton was nominated for this award by MaryAnn Ray, who previously worked as the secretary in the Dental Hygiene program.

After serving in the Marine Corps, Banton received funding to study dental hygiene through a Workforce Solutions program that aims to prepare more workers for occupations that are in demand. Although she originally wanted to be a teacher, Banton said she changed her mind after visiting the Temple College Dental Hygiene Clinic as a patient. Ray told her what she needed to do to apply for the program.

After she completed the Dental Hygiene program at Temple College, Banton also earned a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. She currently works full-time as a dental hygienist in Burnet, in addition to running SMART Smiles.

Banton said she is grateful to all the staff and instructors in the Temple College Dental Hygiene program.

“If it weren’t for their encouragement, love for this profession and selfless example of what we should all aspire to be, I don’t think SMART Smiles would even be here today,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to SMART Smiles may contact Banton at jen98gv@hotmail.com.