Mobile dentists provide ‘safety net’ for students
For some underinsured families, getting a child to a dentist can be a pain. That's why Reach Out Healthcare America has teamed with USD 232 to provide dental care at schools.
Dr. Nevin Waters is the Kansas City area administrator for Reach Out Healthcare America mobile dentist program. He said getting children to the dentist is hard enough when their parents can take them.
"What we decided to do is get permission to set up their appointments at school," Waters said. "They are a captive population and maybe more likely to get help."
Reach Out Healthcare America sends dentists into schools across the country to provide care to students who have Medicaid coverage or no dental insurance. Executive Vice President of Reach Out Healthcare America Allen Hersh said it is important for all children to get regular dental care.
"We are sort of a safety net for kids who would otherwise fall through the cracks," Hersh said. "Our goal is to reach an incremental population where we increase the number of kids who otherwise would never go."
In the De Soto school district, Hersh said Reach Out Healthcare America sends a dentist to the schools three or four times each school year. Permission slips are sent home with each student to get parental consent. Waters said the program sends out a dentist when enough children sign up.
"We need to see 15 kids or so to afford to go," Waters said. "The program has to pay for a dentist and two auxiliary people along with the equipment."
Medicaid generally pays for appointments, as Hersh said 90 percent of the patients in the program are either on Medicaid or uninsured. For those with no insurance, he said there is a discounted rate.
"About four out of five children on Medicaid don't receive proper dental care because of financial reasons," Hersh said. "Those who don't even have Medicaid can come to our dentists at the same rate as Medicaid reimbursement."
When a dentist is sent to one of the schools, the doctor will set up a makeshift office in an empty classroom, the nurse's office or out in the open. Waters said sometimes this also helps encourage children to receive dental care.
"When we are operating in these situations we usually have to have a couple kids watching while we work," Waters said. "That way, they get the idea that this isn't such a scary deal."
Waters said another major issue that keeps children out of the dentist's office is scheduling with the parents. He said with the mobile dentist program, parents don't have to take off work or wait in the lobby for their child. While Waters said there could be "a zillion reasons" for children to not receive dental service, the main reason schools and parents like this program is because healthier children learn better.
"A lot of the kids we treat are in constant dental pain," Waters said. "That can be a major barrier to learning."
In 2006, the Reach Out Healthcare America dentistry program served 70,000 children in eight states.