Poor Kids Can Have A Million-Dollar Smile Program Promotes Tooth Care While Discouraging Fear Of Dentistry
On 5-year-old Casey Anderson’s first visit to the dentist, he cried for his mother, covered his mouth and clenched his jaw.
By the time his appointment was finished, he had two shiny crowns on his teeth and a fear of dentists in his heart.
Dale Ruemping, a pediatric dentist in the Valley, is trying to prevent the same thing from happening to Casey’s 18-month-old sister, Amanda, through the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry, or ABCD, program.
It seems to be working.
On Amanda’s first visit, she had no cavities or fears. Just a pearly white smile.
Dentists may be notorious for a bogyman image, but to Amanda, Ruemping was just a guy with a bunch of neat stuff.
She climbed in the dentist chair for a quick ride, brushed a puppet’s teeth with a big toothbrush, listened using headphones and watched cartoons while Ruemping polished her teeth with this funny-tasting stuff - fluoride.
Not only is ABCD making kids more comfortable in the dentist chair, but it also is making dentists more accessible to low-income families.
If kids become familiar with the dentist from the time they get their first tooth, they can practice oral hygiene and prevent the decay that leads to scarier dentistry, Ruemping said.
ABCD, a partnership between county and state dental associations and county and state agencies, is a five-year pilot program started in February. More than 90 dentists are participating in Spokane County. ABCD is funded primarily by the state Department of Social and Health Services.
In the past, local dentists have donated time on Saturdays to see low-income children. But programs such as Doctor With a Heart and the Dental Emergency Clinic were usually for people who had severe dental problems, said Michele Vanderlinde, Spokane County Health District dental health coordinator. ABCD was implemented to prevent those severe cases from happening, she said.
If ABCD is successful in Spokane, it could be a model for similar programs across the state and perhaps the nation.
The program is available to children age 4 and under who qualify for Medicaid, Social and Health Services dental coupons, and Healthy Options managed health care.
More than 12,000 children in Spokane County qualify for Medicaid, but less than 15 percent of them see a dentist before 3, according to the Spokane County Health District.
“Parents don’t go because they’re fearful. Parents pass on fears to their children and the majority of them are fearful before they’ve experienced anything themselves,” Ruemping said.
Finding a dentist who will treat Medicaid patients can be difficult. Traditional reimbursement rates are 45 percent of their normal charges, according to the health district.
Under ABCD, 75 percent of the normal charges are covered, reducing the out-of-pocket loss for the dentists and increasing the number of dentists willing to participate.
This means more children’s teeth can be saved, especially if they see a dentist early, Ruemping said.
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