Free clinic to offer pediatric services
WelcomeHealth in Fayetteville adding kids medical, dental care
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.
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.
Brittany Glidewell, registered dental hygienist, cleans up her area after a procedure Wednesday at WelcomeHealth in Fayetteville.