EAST HARTFORD—Underneath the big, puffy tooth costume is Nathan, a student at Silver Lane School, who has “perfect teeth” thanks to the Integrated Health Services dental program at his school.

And thanks to an $800,000 competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Service Administration, more students like Nathan will have access to dental services right in their school.

The federal grant will benefit 182 high school students attending Connecticut River Academy Magnet High School at Goodwin College, and more than 500 East Hartford middle school students, and 200 elementary school students. Also once Goodwin’s preschool magnet is established 240 children there will also benefit from the four year grant.

“Of all the grants given out across the country there were only 12 grants given out across the nation,” U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said Thursday. “This is an extraordinary opportunity.”

Larson wrote a letter in support of the grant application.

Deborah Poerio, president and CEO of Integrated Health Services, who wrote the grant said medical, behavioral, and dental health all play a role in determining how successful a student will be in school. She said the services like the ones offered in a handful of East Hartford schools “places the child in the right frame of mind and position to maintain a healthy outlook and wellness.”

With a population of 51,252 residents, East Hartford’s poverty rate is about 10.3 percent, well above the state rate of 6.8 percent, according to recent U.S. Census figures.

Catherine A. Ciccomascolo, principal of Silver Lane School, said when she first started at the school three years ago more than 60 percent of the students had tooth decay. It’s now down to seven percent.

“This affords our students an opportunity to get that taken care of right here. It makes it accessible to all of our parents so we can get our children right back to the classroom where learning takes place,” Ciccomascolo said.

Students are rotated through the dental office for cleanings on a regular basis.

The dental clinic at Silver Lane School is part of its school based health clinic. Initial funding for dental services at the school were approved in 1998 when 78 percent of the schools population was uninsured or on Medicaid. The early dental program provided oral health education, screenings, cleanings, and fluoride applications administered by a dental hygienist.

However, they quickly learned referrals for restorative care to nearby community health centers wasn’t improving the dental health of the children. In October 2008 only about 13 of the 82 students referred to the clinics actually went to see the dentist.

Four months after hiring their first dentist the rate of tooth decay was reduced to 27 percent, and within one year it was less than three percent, according to a press release.

The grant will help the Silver Lane School maintain its dental services and expand dental service at six other school based health clinics in East Hartford.