Clinic to offer free dental care for children in low-income families

BDN illustration by Eric Zelz
BDN illustration by Eric Zelz
Posted Jan. 24, 2011, at 7:49 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 24, 2011, at 9:08 p.m.

It’s enough to make anyone smile: free dental care for children from low-income families.

The first weekend in February, Bangor-area dentists and students from the dental health programs at University College of Bangor will team up to offer free oral health screenings and dental care to children ages 5 to 15.

The Give a Kid a Smile event, sponsored by the American Dental Association, begins Friday, Feb. 4. Student dental hygienists and dental assistants will work with volunteer dentists to screen children for unmet dental needs. The screening will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Bangor Dental Health Clinic, 29 Texas Ave.

Preregistration is required.

Children who need lessons in brushing and flossing technique or other basic care will be tended to right then and there. On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 5, kids who need more extensive care, such as a full-blown cleaning, sealants or fillings, will be seen, for free, at a local dental office.

Dr. Mark Eggleton and his professional partner Dr. Rebekah Blanchette are among area dentists who will provide the free care Saturday.

“There is a great need for children’s dental services in our area,” said Eggleton, whose office provides general family dentistry. This two-day event won’t fix the problem, he said, but it may open the door to dental treatment for some children and raise awareness among parents and the general population.

Many families put off bringing their youngsters to see a dentist because of the expense, Eggleton said. Even those covered by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, often have trouble finding a dentist who will accept the public program’s low reimbursement rates.

While many dentists will accept a certain number of MaineCare children, most limit that number.

“The MaineCare reimbursement is not enough to cover expenses,” Eggleton said. “Economically, it’s suicide.”

Adding to the problem, he said, is a general tendency to wait until a child is 3 years old or older before establishing a relationship with a dentist.

“All too often they already have a problem by then,” Eggleton said.

Children start getting their first teeth at about 6 months old, he said, and typically have a full set of “baby teeth” by the time they’re 2½ years old. Maintaining the health of those early teeth is critical to a child’s nutrition, comfort and looks and also sets the stage for dental health as an adult, he said.

Ideally, Eggleton said, dental care for infants and children would be included in prenatal care, so expectant parents can learn how to ensure the health of their youngsters’ teeth.

Diane Blanchette, dental program director at UCB and mother-in-law of Dr. Rebekah Blanchette, said the two-day event will be able serve only about 30 children.

“There is a greater need than we’ll ever be able to fill,” she said. But efforts are ongoing to attract more family dentists to Maine, she said, and to expand the availability of free and low-cost dental care to Maine children.

Give Kids a Smile is an annual nationwide event. According to the American Dental Association, this year more than 1,700 communities will host an event, with about 45,000 dentists, hygienists, students and other volunteers serving some 40,000 children.

To register for Bangor’s Give Kids a Smile event, call UCB’s dental health program at 262-7870.

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