Free clinic to of­fer pe­di­atric ser­vices

Wel­comeHealth in Fayet­teville adding kids med­i­cal, den­tal care

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAN HOLTMEYER

North­west Arkansas’ free med­i­cal and den­tal clinic is ex­pand­ing its ser­vices to unin­sured chil­dren, its direc­tor said.

Pe­di­atric ser­vices at Wel­comeHealth in Fayet­teville should be­gin this month, though the ex­act date is un­cer­tain, said ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Monika Fis­cher-Massie. The clinic re­lies on vol­un­teer care providers and do­na­tions, and has been grad­u­ally buy­ing the child-size X-ray ma­chine and other den­tal sup­plies for months.

“It’s cer­tainly a much­needed ser­vice, be­cause we have pa­tients call­ing and ask­ing if we see chil­dren,” Fis­cher-Massie said, adding the ser­vices will in­clude clean­ings and sealants — “ba­si­cally

all den­tal ser­vices ex­cept braces.”

The clinic pro­vides ser­vices for a few hun­dred adults each year and reached its 30th an­niver­sary in Oc­to­ber. Sev­eral groups around the metropoli­tan area pro­vide free or low-cost den­tal or med­i­cal ser­vices, but Wel­comeHealth is unique for com­bin­ing both types of care for no charge, Fis­cher-Massie and oth­ers have said.

The tar­get pop­u­la­tion, kids in or near poverty with­out den­tal or med­i­cal cov­er­age, is rel­a­tively small. ARKids First, es­sen­tially Med­i­caid for chil­dren, cov­ers at least some den­tal care as well as other med­i­cal needs, for in­stance.

But the num­ber of chil­dren pa­tients for den­tal care alone could still reach around 200, Brit­tney Gul­ley, the clinic’s devel­op­ment direc­tor, said last year. Den­tal ap­point­ments for adults are typ­i­cally full two or three months in ad­vance.

Tens of thou­sands of Arkansas chil­dren have no health cov­er­age of any kind, ac­cord­ing to the Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, and oth­ers with in­sur­ance might not have den­tal ser­vices in­cluded or could be wait­ing for ben­e­fits to be­gin, Fis­cher-Massie said. The Pa­tient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Oba­macare, and Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans’ pro­posed al­ter­na­tives to the law don’t re­quire in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to in­clude den­tal care in their poli­cies.

Chil­dren’s den­tal health also can af­fect over­all health for years or decades to come, af­fect­ing diet, speech and re­sponse to dis­ease, re­searchers and lo­cal den­tists say. Al­most one-fourth of chil­dren have un­treated cav­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol.

“These are pa­tients who some­times haven’t been to the den­tist in years,” said Dr. Ken­ton Ross, a Fayet­teville den­tist. He has vol­un­teered at Wel­comeHealth and at the part­ner­ship be­tween Fayet­teville Pub­lic Schools and North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege that pro­vides den­tal care to hun­dreds of stu­dents a year with­out in­sur­ance.

One of the most im­por­tant pieces of car­ing for chil­dren is ed­u­ca­tion about how to avoid sug­ary foods and take care of their teeth with brush­ing and floss, he said.

“They stick with it, they take own­er­ship of it, and it be­comes part of their new rou­tine,” Ross said.

Thelma Jor­dan, a re­tired Winslow res­i­dent, said she didn’t go to the den­tist reg­u­larly as a kid and had sev­eral cav­i­ties. It had been at least a decade since her last visit to the den­tist when she started go­ing to Wash­ing­ton Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s free mo­bile den­tal clinic for adults last year.

She needed a painful tooth pulled and sev­eral oth­ers filled and cleaned — “quite a bit” of work, she said.

“I can’t say enough good things,” Jor­dan said of her care at Wash­ing­ton Re­gional’s clinic, adding such a clinic geared for chil­dren would find plenty of need as well. “It has been such a ben­e­fit to North­west Arkansas.”

Wash­ing­ton Re­gional spokes­woman Gina Mad­dox said the hospi­tal isn’t plan­ning to ex­pand to pe­di­atric care, but does plan to add an­other den­tist this month. More than 2,000 peo­ple are en­rolled for the clinic’s ser­vices.

Fis­cher-Massie said Wel­comeHealth’s ef­forts will fo­cus on pre­ven­tion, par­tic­u­larly with sealants that lock away the nooks and cran­nies of the mo­lars from de­cay-caus­ing mi­crobes. It will start by tak­ing pa­tients who are 3 years old or younger or 12 and older, even­tu­ally fill­ing in the gap in be­tween.

“We want them to keep their teeth and keep their teeth healthy,” she said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Jan Wil­lams (from left), den­tal as­sis­tant, Jor­dan Gall, pre-den­tal stu­dent vol­un­teer, and Kayla Garibaldi, pre-den­tal stu­dent vol­un­teer, as­sist Wed­nes­day den­tist Jenna Waselues with fill­ings on a pa­tient at Wel­comeHealth in Fayet­teville.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Brit­tany Glidewell, reg­is­tered den­tal hy­gien­ist, cleans up her area af­ter a pro­ce­dure Wed­nes­day at Wel­comeHealth in Fayet­teville.

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