WelcomeHealth adds dental care for kids
Northwest Arkansas’ free medical and dental clinic is expanding its services to uninsured children, its director says.
Pediatric services at WelcomeHealth in Fayetteville began July 31, says 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 much-needed service, because we have patients calling and asking if we see children,” Fischer-Massie says, 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 lining up 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 says. 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,” says Dr. Kenton Ross, a Fayetteville dentist. He volunteers 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 says.
“They stick with it, they take ownership of it, and it becomes part of their new routine,” Ross says.
Thelma Jordan, a retired Winslow resident, says 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 says.
“I can’t say enough good things,” Jordan says 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 says the hospital isn’t planning to expand to pediatric care, but does plan to add another dentist. More than 2,000 people are enrolled for the clinic’s services.
Fischer-Massie says 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.
Pediatric patients served at WelcomeHealth will be uninsured.
“After speaking with Laura Kellams of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, we realized about 7 percent of Northwest Arkansas children are uninsured, so we want to be here for those families,” says Brittney Gulley, director of development for WelcomeHealth. “We are a stepping stone for families that might not have the financial means to seek medical and dental care elsewhere.”
“We want them to keep their teeth and keep their teeth healthy,” Fischer-Massie says.
Free Or Low-Cost Dental Care
WelcomeHealth*Adults & children*Free*479-444-7548, welcomehealthnwa.org
Community Clinic*Adults and children*Sliding fee based on income*1-855-438-2280, communityclinicnwa.org/167-2
Fayetteville Youth Dental Program*Children (in Fayetteville schools)*Free*479-301-2131
Samaritan Community Center*Adults*Free*479-636-0451, samcc.org/samaritan-dental-clinic
Washington Regional Medical Center Mobile Dental Clinic*Adults*Free*479-463-4746, wregional.com/main/mobile-dental-clinic.aspx
— Source: Staff report