Charles County dental clinic gets boost from state

February 29, 2012

More than 700 Title I elementary school students in Charles County will receive dental screenings and treatments, thanks to a two-year, $250,000 state grant that will help support a new pediatric dental clinic at the former Bel Alton High School, which was turned into a community center in 1998.

In the first year, the grant will pay for dental screenings and oral health education at Charles County’s Title I elementary schools. The program will expand to Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in its second year, although elementary schools in those counties will receive some oral health educational materials in the first year.

Children from low-income families found to be in need of dental services or without a primary dentist will be referred to the organization’s dental clinic, which is under construction at the Bel Alton site. The grant will be used to hire a dentist, dental hygienist and support staff for the clinic.

Of the more than 4,100 dentists practicing in Maryland in 2008, 79 percent were concentrated in centrally located urban areas of the state, and 3 percent specialized in pediatric dentistry, according to a 2010 report from the state Office of Oral Health.

The report also finds that the rate of black third-grade students with untreated cavities was nearly double that of white third-graders during the 2005-06 school year.

“There is a great need in the community for dental care for children,” said Joan Jones, president of the Bel Alton High School Alumni Association Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization established by the school’s alumni to improve the quality of life for low-income individuals and families. It operates out of the former school.

The grant is one of 15 totaling $2.5 million awarded by the Community Health Resources Commission for fiscal 2012 and 2013 to reduce infant mortality and expand access to primary care, dental care for low-income children and mental health treatment, according to a commission release.

Since its creation in 2005, the commission has awarded 20 grants totaling $4.2 million to expand dental services in the state, which collectively have provided more than 80,000 dental visits to more than 34,000 low-income residents, the release states.

State Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), who sponsored legislation creating the commission in 2005, praised the Bel Alton project.

“This grant from the commission will expand access to oral health services for underserved children.. . . . We are very grateful for this important investment,” Middleton said.

Initially planned for the building’s basement, the clinic was relocated to the ground floor after rainfall from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in the fall left the basement under two feet of water and in need of extensive cleanup, Jones said.

Space for the clinic has been built, thanks to a $247,500 federal grant, 80 percent of which is for dental equipment. The clinic will house one panoramic X-ray machine and begin with two dental chairs, but plumbing for four chairs will be installed to accommodate future expansion.

Screenings could begin in county schools this month, Jones said. Waldorf-based dentists Marilyn Bordes and David Jones Jr. have volunteered to help children who need treatment before the clinic is up and running in a couple of months, she added.

Although the grant will cover treatment for students without insurance, Jones said, the ultimate goal is to operate the clinic much like a regular dental office, generating profits while offering more affordable treatments. Costs will vary depending on ability to pay, she added.

Charles County Deputy Health Officer Faye Reed said the project has potential similar to the dental clinic established by the county health department more than four years ago at its White Plains headquarters. Staffed by one full-time and two part-time dentists, a part-time dental hygienist and three full-time dental assistants, the clinic provided services to 2,600 children and more than 1,000 adults in fiscal 2011, she said.

“All of us working together will ensure our children have healthy teeth and wide smiles,” Reed said.

The grant also will pay for program outreach and transportation to treatments, Jones said.

The project is still accepting volunteer partners.

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