February is National Children’s Dental Health month started by the American Dental Association. The month promotes the benefits of proactive children’s dental care, their caregivers, teachers and the community.
While we are all susceptible to tooth decay, oral disease disproportionately affects underserved populations, especially children. Children at most risk are from lower socioeconomic families. Barriers to care such as low caregiver health literacy, language proficiency, dental insurance and geographic access are obstacles.
Access to care is limited by the number of dentists who accept Medicaid or provide variable fees for the uninsured.
Nationally, fewer than one in four dentists see more than 100 Medicaid-eligible children in a year. The Health Policy Institute finds that a little over half of children ages 2 to 18 have private dental benefits. Only 38.5% have dental benefits through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program. More than 10% have no dental benefits at all.
Breaking Barriers to Healthcare
Healthcare Network has been breaking down barriers to primary health services in Collier County for 45 years. So, as you might expect, we are committed to tackling this disparity.
Our 40-foot-long state-of-the-art Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is a partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities of SW Florida. It is also partially funded by the Naples Children and Education Foundation. Since 2004, the mobile has provided medical and dental care to at-risk children throughout Collier County.
This philanthropy-supported mobile pediatric dental office has provided dental screenings, sealants, fluoride, school medical physicals and Head Start screenings. The mobile unit has brought dental care to first- and second-grade students at 14 Collier County Title 1 elementary schools. The mobile has also visited after-school programs, child development centers, migrant communities and a variety of family-oriented festivals.
In addition, the mobile has provided school physicals for new students who are uninsured or cannot pay to get them elsewhere. Without physicals, children are unable to attend Collier County Public Schools.
Our mobile Health & Smiles dental clinic has also provided a wide range of oral health service to all ages. It travels to 20 different sites from Immokalee to Everglades City.
The mobile units help address barriers to care. These include lack of financial resources, transportation or time to travel to our physical facilities.
Providing Care for Everyone
In addition, our new pediatric dental practice opened at Nichols Community Health Center in 2020. The state-of-the art facilities and the new center are available to everyone, including patients with health and dental insurance.
However, as with all our services, no one is denied care based on insurance or income status. In addition to caring for Medicaid patients, we also offer a sliding fee scale that reduces costs for qualified patients. In 2021, we provided more than $15 million of uncompensated care.
Making pediatric dental services available to nearly 50% of Collier County we serve is essential to overall health. Systemic conditions such as diabetes generally first become clear as mouth lesions or other oral problems. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90% of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.
An unhealthy mouth, particularly gum disease, can increase the risk of serious health problems. These can include heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labor as well as impact school performance.
Through our care mobiles and school outreach programs, our hygienists provide regular dental checkups and professional cleanings. They are also educating children on the importance of good home care. Proactive children’s dental care is essential to our integrated health care system. We treat the whole person by addressing medical, behavioral and oral health concerns.
About the Author
Dr. Douglas B. Keck, dental director for Healthcare Network, provides comprehensive dental care at several sites throughout Collier County. Healthcare Network offers a sliding fee scale for patients needing financial assistance. To request an appointment, call 239-658-3000 or click here.