Alachua County’s Southwest Dental Clinic this month held dental screenings for children, completely free of charge.
More than 100 children attended the screenings on Tuesday, Feb. 23, led by dentist Bogdan Ivanov of the Alachua County Health Department and UF College of Dentistry students.
“What better way than to target children early on and be able to get them out of pain and discomfort,” Ivanov said. “Show them that dentistry is a good thing and hopefully give them a head-start for good dental health, rather than doing interventions much later on in life in an emergency basis.”
The clinic, located in the Linton Oaks neighborhood, opened June 1, 2015. It provides families an alternative source for dental care, rather than paying a premium for an emergency room visit.
The clinic worked in partnership with the Florida Department of Health, the Southwest Advocacy Group, the United Health Foundation and the University of Florida College of Dentistry.
Ivanov said the center sees patients from across Alachua County, and the clinic has expanded its client base thanks to strong word of mouth.
“Our grant from the United Health Foundation was originally to help adults in acute pain, but we’re trying to also diversify,” Ivanov said, “because we have the opportunity to do fillings and restorative work.”
Throughout February, which is National Children’s Dental Health Month, the Florida Department of Health’s Dental Program has been promoting ‘Sealing Sunny Smiles Across Florida’ – an initiative promoting dental sealants for children.
Maria Garcia, a dental hygienist for the FDOH in Lee County, said in an email “more than 65 percent of the department’s county health offices have school sealant programs.”
In creating a school-based sealant program, Alachua County formed a unique partnership with the UF College of Dentistry.
Ivanov said that, for over a decade, the sealant program has been led by Dr. Scott Tomar, chairman of the UF College of Dentistry’s Community Department.
Tomar said Alachua County lacked a school-based sealant program until he arrived. Initially, the program worked in community centers, but it eventually expanded to schools in Alachua County. Tomar said they started a school-based sealant program five years ago and a school dental-screening program.
Tomar said dental sealants significantly reduce the formation of molar cavities, yet many children don’t have them.
“I know from the time that I’ve arrived here, the county wasn’t involved in oral health services at all,” Tomar said. “I don’t think anybody would have said it wasn’t needed.”
According to the Alachua County Public School Wellness Policy, nutrition education is included in the curriculum and students in kindergarten through fifth grade are required to have 150 minutes of exercise a week.
But aside from the promotion of eating healthy foods, dental care isn’t mentioned in the policy.
Along with identifying schools which have students from low-income households, Tomar said the five years of screening data has helped identify communities with children lacking access to dental care.
“Socioeconomics is probably the biggest predictor,” Tomar said, “and we focus on areas we’ve had pretty high rates of disease and low rates of dental sealants.”
Tomar and his team bring portable dental equipment to elementary schools throughout Alachua County to check student’s teeth.
Medicaid covers the procedure, but he said a large percentage of patients do not have insurance.
“We still provide the service at no charge to them,” Tomar said. While the work is done on the student, Dr. Tomar and his team intend their message to reach the child’s parent or guardian.
“One of the pieces we send home is a list of dental clinics in the area where they can follow up with regular care,” Tomar said.
Although Medicaid can help pay for dental care, insured people have limited options because private dentists are not required to accept it as a form of insurance.
There are eight dental providers who accept Medicaid for children’s dental care, according to Alachua County’s website.
Along with providing screenings, Tomar said the service teaches the importance in dental hygiene, but “There needs to be more than just the tooth-brushing instruction we can give to a second grader on a Monday.”