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Local dentists provide free care on Give Kids a Smile Day
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Local dentists provide free care on Give Kids a Smile Day

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More than 100 children received preventive dental care and any necessary treatment during the 14th annual Give Kids a Smile event Friday at a half-dozen Council Bluffs dental clinics.

Participating dental groups included My Pediatric Dentist Bayliss Park, Broadway Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, New Image Dentistry, Omni Dental Centre, Stuntz Family Dentistry and Children’s Dentistry of Council Bluffs.

Each student had their teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist and got an exam and an X-ray, according to Liz Addison, I-Smile coordinator at FAMILY Inc. and organizer of Give Kids a Smile.

“There were extractions, some fillings and one child who needed a root canal,” she said.

Since it’s a pretty involved procedure, the provider will perform the root canal during a follow-up visit — but still at no cost to the student’s family, Addison said.

“Every child is identified that needs follow-up care,” she said. “Providers will still do it pro bono.”

The event was almost without mishaps, Addison said, except one bus driver got sick, and getting a fill-in put the bus a little behind schedule. Some had to wait while the previous group of students finished up at Omni Dental Centre. Students from Roosevelt Elementary School were given sack lunches to eat outside, since it got to be their lunchtime.

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While several school districts often participate in the event, only Council Bluffs Community Schools did this year, she said. That was partly because it was postponed from the first Friday in February because of the number of COVID-19 cases occurring then and partly because some school officials were still concerned about the coronavirus.

“We didn’t feel comfortable doing it in February, but we knew that if we waited until later we would be able to have it,” Addison said.

Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, affecting nearly half of U.S. children ages 2-19, a press release from Family stated. Rates are highest in children from low-income and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds.

Untreated decay can cause chronic infections, abscesses, mouth pain, problems eating and sleeping, growth delay, school absence and poor well-being. In rare cases, it can cause sepsis and death.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s screen time, unhealthy snacking and food insecurity have increased, leading to greater risk of decay. For many months, families opted to skip important preventative procedures like dental checkups due to fears related to the pandemic. In addition, the pandemic has led to a further decrease in the access to care for Iowa families with Medicaid dental coverage.

In Pottawattamie County, 56.6% of children ages 0-12 are covered by Iowa Medicaid. However, 84.2% of dental offices in the county do not accept patients on Medicaid. The numbers paint a drastic access to care crisis — only three family and pediatric dental offices in the county are accepting Iowa Medicaid patients at this time. About 43% of Pottawattamie County children ages 0-14 who are enrolled in Iowa Medicaid (4,486 children) were without a dental visit in 2020. That is more than the entire population of the county’s second largest city, Carter Lake.

One reason is Iowa Medicaid’s reimbursement rate for providers is notoriously low. Meanwhile, some private insurance companies will pay a dentist up to four times as much as Medicaid would for the same procedure, Addison said.

Events such as Give Kids a Smile can only happen because of the generosity of volunteers and participating dental providers.

“We are grateful for their continued commitment to giving back to the community and for bringing awareness to this need,” Addison said.

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