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Lighthouse Dental and Orthodontics
Lighthouse Dental and Orthodontics in Riverton offers candy canes alongside toothbrushes and toothpaste for their "Smiles for Santa" program.

RIVERTON — On Dec. 1, Dr. Samuel Richey and the staff at Lighthouse Dental and Orthodontics will come into work like any other day. However, unlike other days, they will be working for free and the day’s 30-60 young patients won’t pay a dime for treatment.

From 8 a.m.-3 p.m., the staff will welcome children who don’t have dental insurance and do not qualify for CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) to provide them with basic dental care through a program called "Smiles for Santa." Children ages 3-16 are eligible.

This will be the 10th straight year of its 11 years in practice that Lighthouse Dental and Orthodontics in Riverton has been running "Smiles for Santa."

“We decided that we were doing fairly well in the new area, and we had come in contact with different families who were unable to pay for dental services or did not have dental insurance,” Mallory Christensen, office manager of Lighthouse Dental and Orthodontics, said. “We did our best to help them, but we knew that there was more that we could do.”

According to Christensen, children with appointments will receive an examination, X-rays and a cleaning. Cleanings may be forgone if a child has more urgent treatment needs that the office can provide.

“Most people won’t have anything that’s too critical,” she said. “But some of the children who come might need fillings or crowns, so we do take care of those things as well. If they need extensive treatment, we don’t take care of all of it just because we like to see and help as many kids as we can. We’ll take care of the most urgent treatment and we always offer a discount if they want to come back.”

Christensen acknowledged that going to the dentist and being in a new setting can sometimes be frightening for young children.

She said that one year a little girl came in who was scared to have anyone work on her teeth. In order to help her feel more comfortable, the staff put on Santa hats and sang a Christmas song for her.

“We got a smile from her and she calmed down a little bit, so that sparked a little tradition,” Christensen said. “We like to wear Santa hats when they come and Christmas garb. Our office is decorated, and we have Christmas music and Christmas movies playing. I think the fact that it’s Christmas helps them feel more calm.”

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Parents can schedule an appointment for their children by calling 801-253-4746. The office asks that families participate only if they are truly in need.

“In one word, this program is awesome,” Christensen said. “I think Dr. Richey, what he’s doing is really cool. It is busy. We don’t stop or sit down for even a minute, but it feels really good to give back.”

Christensen said when people hear about the program they often wonder what the catch is.

“It’s about paying it forward,” she said. “It’s really that simple.”