Healthcare Network Ensuring Bright Smiles

New practice will provide comprehensive dental care to approximately 9,500 children annually

by Dr. Douglas B. Keck, dental director, Healthcare Network

When we think of primary health, dental health is often overlooked, or gasp considered non-essential. With established links between oral health and overall health, routine dental care is imperative at every life stage, including young children.

People are often surprised to learn that tooth decay (or cavities) can develop as soon as a child’s first tooth comes in. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports, “by age 8, more than 50% of children have had a cavity in their primary (baby) teeth.”

Even more surprising, cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases in children in the United States – four times more common in adolescents than asthma. Yet, tooth decay is preventable.

While we are all susceptible to tooth decay, oral disease disproportionately affects underserved populations, especially children. Children at most risk are from lower socioeconomic families where barriers to care such as caregiver low health literacy, language proficiency, dental insurance and geographic access are prevalent.

Access to care is also greatly limited by the number of dentists who accept Medicaid or provide variable fees for the uninsured. Nationally, fewer than one-in-four dentists see more than 100 Medicaid eligible children in a year.

The Health Policy Institute finds that a little over half of children ages 2 to 18 have private dental benefits, 38.5% have dental benefits through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program, and 10.3% have no dental benefits at all. But baby teeth are temporary. Yes, but untreated cavities can progress into tooth infection that can spread to the jaw and face in extreme cases, the brain.

With dental decay and pain, children are three times more likely to miss school and have impaired development, lower educational performance, poor behavior, diminished quality of life, illness and more. Furthermore, lifelong habits are formed at an early age, the earlier a healthy habit is introduced, the more likely it will be adhered to in the long term.

Once again, tooth decay is preventable. Healthcare Network has been breaking down barriers to primary health services for our community since 1977. So, as you might expect, we are committed to tackling this crisis.

In October, with tremendous support from the Naples Children & Education Foundation, we expanded our pediatric dental care program with the opening of our new pediatric practice in our Nichols Community Health Center. As with all our practices, no one will be denied care based on insurance or income status. In addition to caring for Medicaid patients, we also offer a sliding fee scale that reduces the cost of services for qualified patients.

As a medical and dental home, our staff works collaboratively with patients and their families to promote overall health and improve access to preventive services. The American Dental Association says, “dentistry is an essential health care service because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.”

Systemic conditions such as diabetes generally first become clear as mouth lesions or other oral problems. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90% of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.

Why is this important? Overall community health impacts all members of our community. Community health affects educational achievement, safety, ability to work and financial stability. If neglected, poor community health can lead to more complex and costly problems such as increased chronic disease, infectious disease and crime.

How can I help? Collectively we can improve health equity for our community by identifying those in need. Daycares, schools, social services and various nonprofits interact with families long before a child’s first dental visit. These are opportunities to help families understand the importance of setting up a “dental home” as soon as a child’s first tooth arrives to current and future overall health.

Dr. Douglas B. Keck, dental director for Healthcare Network, provides comprehensive pediatric dental care at several sites and will lead the pediatric dental program at Nichols Community Health Center.

To request an appointment, call 239-658-3000

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