Debi Harmon has been horrified in past weeks to see children with rotting teeth walking onto the Miles for Smiles dental van.
"Last month, we were giving root canals to 3-year-olds," said Harmon, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition. "Yesterday, we served a 17-year-old who had 12 cavities, and we have seen 2-year-olds with tooth decay from bottle rot."
The cost of preventative care such as cleanings and check-ups prevents some poor or uninsured families from taking their children to the dentist's office, she said.
"For some of these kids, their first visit to the dentist is when they end up in the emergency room," Harmon said.
The root canals and cavities could have been prevented, she said, "but all the dollars are going into crisis control, and we have kids who don't have permanent teeth."
It's a common misconception that decay is not something to worry about in baby teeth because they will be replaced by permanent teeth, "but if the decay goes into the root, it affects permanent teeth," Harmon said.
In an attempt to reach those too poor to afford a dentist visit or those who are uninsured, the Miles for Smiles dental van has been parked in front of the Visiting Nurse Association office at Yampa Valley Medical Center since Jan. 20.
Since 1999, the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition has collaborated with KIND (Kids In Need of Dentistry) to bring the Miles for Smiles program to Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
The dental van accepts patients younger than 18 who are on Medicaid, uninsured or on the 3HP children's health plan. This is the first year the van has accepted Medicaid patients.
The average cost for a first visit to the dental van for an uninsured child is about $40, Harmon said. "The rate they pay is about 10 percent of a normal dentist visit, plus a $20 co-pay."
For $40, the dentist does X-rays, a cleaning, fluoride treatment, oral hygiene instruction and an assessment of future treatment needs.
Pediatric dentist Dr. Joanna Hokanson has been providing care in the van for children as young as 16 months old. On Friday, she was joined by Dr. Neil Ganz from Rabbit Ears Dental who provided his services free for Give a Kid a Smile Day.
The Miles for Smiles dental van will be in the hospital parking lot until Feb. 17 and then will be moving to Craig, where Routt County children also are welcome.
To make an appointment, call 824-1178 or 879-1632.
-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
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