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Local dentists offer free care

The free examinations will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bible Center Church, 111 Oakhurst Drive, just off Corridor G in Charleston. After signing up for an examination, children will receive free dental care from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 2 at Smith & Smith Dental, 1501 Seventh Ave., on Charleston’s West Side. Children must attend the free screening at the Bible Center today to receive free care on Feb. 2.

ericeyre@wvgazette.com

When Dr. Ashley Patnoe worked as a pediatric dentist for two years in Michigan, she saw plenty of cavities.

But what she saw after returning to West Virginia to practice in 2003 was startling: young children with rampant decay, poor oral hygiene and mouths full of rotted teeth that couldn't be saved.

"It was horrific," Patnoe said. "I had children who I needed to pull out their teeth, and they're only 4 or 5 years old."

Today, Patnoe and two dozen fellow dentists will take steps to improve children's oral health across the Kanawha Valley.

They are offering free examinations to children as part of the American Dental Association's fifth annual Give Kids a Smile Day. As many as 50 Kanawha Valley dental hygienists and dental assistants also plan to take part.

The free examinations will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bible Center Church, 111 Oakhurst Drive, just off Corridor G in Charleston.

After signing up for an examination, children will receive free dental care from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 2 at Smith & Smith Dental, 1501 Seventh Ave., on Charleston's West Side. Children must attend the free screening at the Bible Center today to receive free care on Feb. 2.

The free dental services include X-rays, fillings, crowns, tooth sealants, cleanings and fluoride treatments.

"We're targeting children between the ages of three and 12 who don't have dental insurance," Patnoe said. "We're trying to target families who fall between the cracks. We won't turn anyone away."

Dental disease is the single most prevalent chronic childhood disease.

About 65 percent of West Virginia children have cavities by age 8, according to a West Virginia Healthy People study. Cavity rates are highest among children from low-income families.

In recent years, the cavity rate among West Virginia children ages 2 to 5 has increased by 15 percent. About 28 percent of West Virginia children have untreated tooth decay.

In past years, some Kanawha County dentists took part individually in the Give Kids a Smile program.

This year, the dentists are banding together to provide free dental work to children at the two Charleston sites. Kids who live in Kanawha and bordering counties are eligible. Children who already have a dentist are also invited to take part.

Organizers acknowledge the event isn't a "cure-all" for West Virginia's oral health woes. Instead, they consider the program a "wake-up call" to alert children and parents about the importance of oral health, which is integral to overall health.

"It's an effort to get the kids somewhere and determine what their needs are," said Richard Stevens, executive director of the West Virginia Dental Association. "The problem is getting these children somewhere where they can be examined."

The dental association also hopes the event will raise awareness that reforms are needed to encourage more dentists to take part in public health insurance programs, such as Medicaid. West Virginia dentists complain that Medicaid reimbursement rates in West Virginia are far below the costs of the dental services they provide. The reimbursement process also is extremely cumbersome, dentists say.

Give Kids a Smile Day started in St. Louis in 2002 when a group of dentists set up a temporary clinic to treat 400 children over two days.

This year, the American Dental Association expects more than 50,000 volunteers, including 14,000 dentists, to participate in the event across the country.

An estimated 735,000 U.S. children are expected to receive care in more than 2,000 locations. Sponsors, including Colgate-Palmolive, have donated $3 million in supplies to the program, which kicks off National Children's Dental Health Month in February.

Patnoe's group, the Kanawha Valley Dental Society, has spent the past month sending out letters to schools, churches and pediatricians about the event.

"It's to provide quality dental care for kids who really need it and help people who work hard but can't afford dental insurance," Patnoe said. "We're just trying to provide good oral health. The dentists in this community really do care."

For more information on Give Kids a Smile Day, call 550-9773.

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, call 348-4869. Eyre's reporting on oral health is being supported by a Kaiser Family Foundation journalism fellowship.


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