Providing TLC to our Pediatric Dental Patients
Marin Community Clinics takes pride in the high quality, tender-loving dental care we provide to children.
In 2016, we served close to 10,000 children, but there are still hundreds of low-income children who are not getting dental care. Read more about our program and what we are doing to close the gap:
Marin Voice: All of Marin’s Children Deserve to have Good Oral Health
by: John Boland, DDS and Connie Kadera, DDS
(published in the Marin Independent Journal in December 2016)
For most of us, taking care of our teeth has been a life-long habit. When we were children, our parents taught us good dental hygiene and took us to the dentist for regular exams. But this is not the case for everyone – even in Marin, one of the healthiest counties in the state.
When it comes to dental care for low-income children on Medi-Cal, Marin fares better than most California communities. That may sound commendable, but it is not good enough: recent reports indicate that up to 48% of Marin’s Medi-Cal children are not getting dental care.
We are concerned about this gap.
As dental experts, we know it is imperative that children receive dental care early on in life. Children usually get their first tooth at six months of age, so that’s when we like to begin seeing them. This is particularly critical for high-risk children. We see many immigrant families who give their babies high sugar content drinks and food (such as juice in baby bottles, Coca-Cola, or white bread). These practices, combined with not brushing a young child’s teeth, usually result in what we call “early childhood caries” (cavities).
The end result can be devastating: decay in the baby teeth; rampant decay in the permanent teeth; pain, and loss of teeth – all at a young age. Broader problems resulting from tooth pain can also occur – difficulty learning at school, difficulty chewing food, and even social issues.
In Marin, there are just a few providers who serve these children – our Clinics, the Marin City Health and Wellness Center, Coastal Health Alliance, and a handful of private dentists. Local dentists volunteer to provide dental exams at some of Marin’s public schools, but their time is limited.
Marin Community Clinics operates three accessible, child-friendly dental clinics – one in Novato and two in San Rafael (one of which is part of the County of Marin’s health system). We operate in the evenings and on weekends, and our staff is bi-lingual and culturally sensitive.
Importantly, we understand children and treat them with gentle, loving care so that they feel safe. It’s a new experience for them, so the initial care is done in two steps. At the first visit, we conduct an initial clinical exam and spend concentrated time on parent education regarding dental hygiene, the causes of cavities, and how they can create positive healthy changes. At the second visit, we provide a cleaning, more dental education, and fluoride treatment. The educational component is “mission critical” – if we don’t educate, we simply can’t keep up with the amount of new decay.
Last year, we served close to 10,000 pediatric dental patients, with a total of 37,000 visits. Ninety percent of these children are on Medi-Cal; most come because their families are already Clinics’ medical patients.
What about the other children?
Many of the parents of underserved children are recent immigrants with limited oral health education, and are unaware of basic dental hygiene. Most have no idea about the presence and/or dangers of untreated cavities in their children’s mouths. Furthermore, they may not be aware of available services.
To address this gap, Marin Community Clinics is planning to conduct more outreach to parents with high risk children. We not only need to inform them about available services, but, like many health issues, we must provide education.
We are asking the help of the entire community to help spread the word – schools, the business community, other community service agencies, and churches. If you want to assist, contact us at 415.448-1500 or visit our website at www.marinclinics.org. Remember: dental health is good health!
Dr. John Boland is the chair of the Marin Community Clinics board, a retired pediatric dentist and a Clinics volunteer. He resides in San Rafael. Dr. Kadera is the Clinics’ chief dental officer; she resides in San Rafael.