For struggling families who lack insurance, dental care typically ranks pretty low on the list of priorities. In rural areas where dentists are scarce, finding affordable dental care may seem nearly impossible.
It’s a problem all too familiar to Kathy Gaskin, the executive director of Healthy Adams County.
“In Adams County, we definitely have a shortage of dentists, especially dentists who accept Medicaid patients,” Gaskin explained. “We were having a huge issue with dental care access for people with Medicaid or no insurance.”
To address the problem, WellSpan partnered with Family First Health, a nonprofit, federally funded community health center. In June 2012, with the funding by a WellSpan grant, Family First Health opened a state-of-the-art dental facility in Gettysburg.
Family First Health accepts all forms of insurance, including Medicaid, and offers discounts to uninsured patients, based on their family size and income.
“We provide comprehensive dentistry,” said Jenny Englerth, executive director of Family First Health. “We do everything from cleanings and hygiene services to fillings and crowns, root canals, extractions, bridges, dentures, and even emergency care.”
The dental center treated 500 people in its first 90 days. A third of those patients were young children.
“We’ve set up our services around seeing children at an early an age as possible,” Englerth explained. “That’s in conjunction with the change in guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics about when to start accessing dental care for your child.”
She said that some nine and 10 year-olds are coming into the center for the first dental visit of their lives.
The center’s primary dentist, Joseph Mountain, DMD, said that many of his young patients are contending with more than just economic barriers. They may have an unstable family life, no transportation, or parents who don’t speak English.
“These patients are our most vulnerable,” he said.
Mountain spoke of a young mother who brought her two-year-old daughter, seeking to learn proper dental care for the child. The woman had missing teeth, and those that remained were discolored and pocked with cavities. She said it was too late for her, but she hoped her daughter could avoid the same pain and social stigma she had endured.
“Until this point, I don’t think she realized she could also be seen at our facility,” Mountain said. “I told her it is never too late, and she should set up a new-patient exam with us. She left here ecstatic.”
WellSpan Health has worked to provide greater access to dental care for underserved and uninsured people in Adams County for several years. The dental services now available through the Family First Health Dental Center represent the efforts of long-standing community organizations and committed individuals.