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Youth dental care made affordable

Affordable youth dental care campaign targets Hispanics

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Published on: Wednesday, February 06, 2013

By Jason Ruiter

National Children’s Dental Health Month kicked off Friday as Hispanic families received Medicaid and sliding-scale prices for dental services for their children at Prince George’s County Health Department.

“We love everything about the program,” said Virginia Garcia Vivar, whose 17-year-old daughter received dental care. “My little kids get so excited to come.”

The movement to get affordable dental care to children in Maryland began six years ago after the death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, a boy in Prince George’s, who died from a tooth infection that spread to his brain.

“It was a Prince George’s County tragedy,” said Dr. Harry Goodman, director of the Offices of Oral Health and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Maryland. “The sad thing is that it was all preventable.”

Out of that tragedy, legislation was drafted to get more dental care to children in Maryland. Part of that legislation has been having dentists accept Medicaid.

“Our Medicaid program has been expanded … enticing more dentists to participate,” Goodman said.

Dr. Debony Hughes, a dentist who had just treated Vivar’s daughter, said that the process has been made easier for dentists.

“Maryland has a single vendor. ... It’s all streamlined,” Hughes said, adding that it made the process a lot easier for her to serve those with Medicaid coverage.

In an effort to educate Maryland citizens about the affordability of dental care for children, the Maryland Dental Action Coalition invited media as Hispanic children had their teeth cleaned and inspected. Hispanic children are twice as likely to have untreated cavities as their white counterparts, according to a Hispanic Dental Association survey.

“This year there’s a new companion campaign for Hispanics,” said Margaret Scarlett, the project consultant for the coalition, who added that children should see the dentist in their first year of birth. The secondary campaign is geared towards educating the Maryland Hispanic community with brochures in Spanish in addition to radio ads for nine weeks on El Zo 107.9 FM, a Hispanic radio station in Maryland.

At the end of the radio campaign, the coalition estimates that 49 percent of Hispanic women in Maryland between the ages of 18 and 34 will have heard the radio ad at least 10 times.

Vivar said her daughter didn’t have health insurance, but the dentists offer sliding-scale fees based off the salaries of the family.

“It’s not expensive … the prices are really comfortable,” she said.

Hughes said, “I love doing this. The kids are great. We watch them grow up. … We also have cartoons and videos. We make it exciting for the kids.” One entertainment offering was a video of a chimpanzee receiving dental treatment as the patients received their own dental treatment.

“My little kids, they love going to the dentist here,” Vivar said. “They help us since sometimes since our English isn’t so good. They make it comfortable. If I bring them somewhere else, they say, ‘Mommy, no!’”

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