Let’s face it. When things are tight, dental care is one of those things that do not make it to the top of anyone’s priority list. Neglecting dental care, especially in young children, can lead to bigger problems and larger expenses down the road.
The good news is that many dentists are so passionate about helping children get the dental care they need that they work with programs to provide low-cost or free dental care to needy families. However, according to research, many of these free programs are highly underutilized. The funds and dentists are there, but the potential patients are not getting care (1). The cause of the problem certainly is not the free dental tape the local dentist gives out, but it may be the governmental red tape that accompanies many free programs.
Schools with Money
Schools are often great facilitators for identifying and targeting children in need of any kind of medical care, including dental care. Most children, rich or poor, pass through the doors of a school, making the place of education an ideal venue for identifying needs. Many state governments work together with schools to provide for student needs. In the case of dental care, schools are sometimes given funds to use to provide dental care for needy children. These funds help offset the costs of expensive insurance, equipment, supplies and office salaries that dentists must pay in order to provide quality care. With funds available, you would think that most dentists would be happy to offer their services and that many children would receive the care they need.
A school district in Florida is a prime example of the problem with free care. There, $18,000 lies in the school fund, earmarked for dental care. Unless something changes, that money will continue to lie right there, unused, or be channeled for other purposes. In this case the mandatory criminal background checks required for every dental office staff person are to blame. If a dental office has already been providing dental services for Medicaid patients, the staff has already undergone the necessary checks, so doing them again is not only costly and time consuming but a redundant effort (2).
Dentists Caring for Smiles
In spite of the governmental red tape often associated with helping kids maintain sparkling smiles, many dentists still go out of their way to make sure kids get the dental care they need. The American Dental Association, in conjunction with dentists, dental students, and schools across the country, provide care to hundreds of thousands of children each year on “Give Kids a Smile Day (3).” Scan through Google News, and you are sure to find many stories of individual dental clinics and groups of dental professionals bridging the gap of financial need, overcoming the obstacles of government paperwork, and reaching out to meet the dental needs of children in their communities. After all, a dentist’s highest priorities are to prevent cavities and provide the best possible oral health care, even when that means giving to help those in need.
Carrie Thompson works with Dr. B’s, a las vegas pediatric dentist focusing on preventative dental care in children. They make sure visits to the dentist’s office are fun, not scary.