Dental clinic for low-income families ready to care

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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Susana Merida, left, a dental fellow from the University of Maryland who will provide pediatric dental services to Charles County young people ages 6 months to 18 years for the next two years, and dental assistant Cynthia Tatum, check out the dental equipment at the new pediatric dental clinic before a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to celebrate the opening of a new pediatric dental clinic in the Charles County Department of Health building in White Plains.


The Charles County Department of Health threw a party Friday to celebrate the opening of a dental clinic in its White Plains building that will provide services to thousands of low-income kids living in the county.

The clinic started seeing youngsters 6 months to 18 years last week, and so far 12 kids have been provided dental care, said Sandy Webb, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the health department who helps oversee the pediatric dental program. There are 72 children scheduled for dental appointments at the clinic.

The health department provided dental screening at nine sites to 123 needy children in Charles County, Webb said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the dental clinic Friday morning at the health department. Fourteen percent of the kids needed urgent care, 23 percent required nonurgent care and a surprising 63 percent showed no obvious dental problems, she said.

There are 214 adults who are on a waiting list for dental services, but the health department is having a hard time finding a dentist to provide adult dental care, Webb said.

Susana Merida, a dental fellow from the University of Maryland, is providing the pediatric dental care at the clinic. A mom herself, Merida said she is happy to be providing a much-needed service to needy children in the county.

‘‘I’m very excited,” she said before the ceremony started Friday. ‘‘One of the things that I learned at dental school is to provide service to everyone, but in reality, you can’t provide that service because people can’t pay for it. Now I can provide that service, no matter what the circumstances ... I’m very pleased to be part of this program.”

Merida said she will be at the dental clinic for two years.

Harry Goodman, director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Office of Oral Health, said Charles County’s pediatric clinic is the 14th to open in the state.

‘‘It’s a dream come true,” he said Friday. ‘‘I would certainly like to promote this model in other counties in the state. It’s a beautiful clinic; it’s really state-of-the-art. It takes a partnership to make this happen.”

The DHMH partnered with the county’s health department and department of social services and the county government to open the clinic which also employs two dental assistants. The program offers a variety of pediatric dental services, including cleaning, X-rays, exams, the application of sealants and fluoride and restorative services such as filling cavities and tooth extractions.

The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Charles County Health Officer Chinnadurae Devadason said he hopes to open the clinic Fridays for adult dental care.

‘‘This is an important milestone in the provision of a needed service for the uninsured and underinsured in Charles County,” he said. ‘‘This is a long-felt need that is becoming a reality today.”

‘‘I’m extremely pleased about it,” said Charles County commissioners’ President F. Wayne Cooper (D). ‘‘This is a much-needed service in Charles County. You only get one set of teeth. It’s very important to try to maintain healthy teeth.”

Charles County Commissioner Samuel N. Graves Jr. (D) said that the death of a 12-year-old Prince George’s County boy who died last year because of a tooth abscess after bacteria from the infection spread to his brain was a tragic wakeup call about the importance of providing dental care to youngsters.

‘‘Dr. D. is doing a great job here,” he said, referring to Devadason. ‘‘I’m glad that it didn’t take a child to die in this county for us to do this. That was very tragic.”

Charles County Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) said that it is often difficult for people who are insured to receive dental care because of the cost.

‘‘Many of us who need dental care aren’t getting it, even those who are insured,” he said. ‘‘I’m glad that the county is addressing this issue. There is a significant need for pediatric dental care in the county.”

About 6,000 youngsters between the ages of 2 and 20 years are in need of some sort of dental service in the county, said Erin Piskura, the health department’s oral health educator. Piskura, often dressed as the tooth fairy, visits county schools, libraries, parent groups and the Charles County Department of Social Services to teach youngsters and their parents about the importance of dental health.

Norman Tinanoff, a dentist who chairs the University of Maryland Dental School’s Office of Health Promotion and Policy in Baltimore, said many of Charles County’s needy children had to travel to the Baltimore clinic to receive dental care.

‘‘Charles County has needed this for so many years,” he said. ‘‘This is such a great day for this county. There was no place before this clinic opened for these children to go. Many would come to Baltimore for dental care. Now, they can get that care in their own community.”

Norman said that there are 4,000 children enrolled in the state’s Medicaid and Maryland Children’s Health programs and only 14 percent of them receive dental care.

‘‘I’m so happy that we could bring this clinic to your community,” he said during the ceremony.

‘‘This is one of the ways that we’re stretching our wings.”

Goodman said that DHMH has allocated $1 million in grant funding to bolster oral health care programs on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland during fiscal 2009, which begins July 1.

Christine Stefanides, president and chief executive officer of Civista Medical Center in La Plata, said that she is glad that emergency room doctors will now have a clinic to which they can refer children who have urgent dental needs. The health department clinic is set up for urgent pediatric dental care.

‘‘This is a good day; this is something that has been needed for a long time,” she said. ‘‘We don’t have a dentist at the hospital so we’re not able to offer dental care. Now when a child shows up we know that we can get them in for treatment. This is really going to fill a gap in dental services.”