by Dr. Douglas B. Keck,
Dental Director, Healthcare Network
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 low caregiver health literacy, language proficiency, dental insurance and geographic access are prevalent.
Access to care, particularly in the parts of Collier County that HealthCare Network serves, are 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.
Healthcare Network has been breaking down barriers to primary health services in Collier County for 45 years. So, as you might expect, we are committed to tackling this disparity.
Since 2004, our 40-foot-long state-of-the-art Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, a partnership between Healthcare Network and Ronald McDonald House Charities of SW Florida and partially funded by the Naples Children and Education Foundation, has provided medical and dental care to at-risk children throughout Collier County. This philanthropy-supported mobile pediatric dental office has provided dental screenings, sealants, fluoride, school medical physicals and Head Start screenings.
The mobile unit brings dental care to first- and second-grade students at 14 Collier County Title 1 elementary schools, as well as after-school programs, child development centers, migrant communities and a variety of family-oriented festivals.
In addition, the Care Mobile has provided school physicals for new students who are uninsured or cannot pay to get them elsewhere. Without physicals, children are unable to attend Collier County PublicSchools.by Dr. Douglas B. Keck, Dental Director, Healthcare Network Our mobile Health & Smiles dental clinic has also provided a wide range of oral health services to all ages at 20 different sites from Immokalee to Everglades City.
The mobile units help address barriers to care such as lack of financial resources, transportation or time to travel to our physical facilities in Naples, Immokalee and the Nichols Community Health Center in Golden Gate.
In addition to our mobile units, our new pediatric dental practice opened at Nichols Community Health Center in 2020with support from the Naples Children & Education Foundation. The state-of-the art facilities and the new center are available to everyone, including patients with health and dental insurance.
However, as with all our services, no one is denied care based on insurance or income status. In addition to caring for Medicaid patients, we also offer a sliding fee scale that reduces costs for qualified patients. In 2021, we provided more than $15 million of uncompensated care.
Making these pediatric dental services available to nearly 50%of children in Collier County we serve is essential to overall health because 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.
An unhealthy mouth, particularly gum disease, can increase the risk of serious health problems including heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labor as well as impact school performance.
Through our care mobiles and school outreach programs, our hygienists are educating children on the importance of good homecare, as well as providing regular dental checkups and professional cleanings. These programs are essential to our integrated healthcare system, where we treat the whole person by addressing medical, behavioral and oral health concerns.
About the Author
Dr. Douglas B. Keck, dental director for Healthcare Network, provides comprehensive dental care at several sites throughout Collier County. To request an appointment, call 239-658-3000.