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Horace Harris, North Carolina
I have found, in my seven years as Dental Director at a community health center, that the oral health needs of this population are great. Most patients access the clinic when experiencing dental pain associated with severe caries or periodontal disease. It has been our goal to alleviate the emergency pain and then encourage the patient to return for follow-up treatment, stressing prevention through good oral hygiene and nutrition.
Educating the patient on proper oral hygiene has been a challenge. Many adult patients have received dental treatment in their native country that is, unfortunately, of poor quality, leading to severe caries and perio disease. Babies are often given bottles with sugar water or sweet colas at night, causing severe decay on upper anterior teeth known as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.
To address these problems, we have a team approach at our health center. All health providers (physicians, Physician Assistants, nurses) as well as maternal and child health care coordinators and outreach personnel help the dental staff by detecting dental disease early and referring to dental for treatment. This team approach promotes dental awareness and improves accessibility to services.
Many of our patients receive Medicaid assistance for dental treatment. However, few private dentists in our area accept new Medicaid patients due to low reimbursement rates. Therefore, we are overwhelmed by the number of dental patients needing dental treatment.
The most rewarding aspect of providing dental services to this population is their sense of appreciation for treatment, and the opportunity to make a positive impact by improving the oral health of a population with great needs.