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HC students receive dental screenings through I-Smile program

Dentists not taking new Medicaid patients a barrier to care, says I-Smile coordinator

I-Smile is providing Henry County students with dental screenings while directing families to resources to ensure the students get the proper dental care they need throughout their childhood.

The Henry County school dental audit was completed before Dec. 23, 2018, to comply with the state’s timeline for a valid dental screening. Henry County is involved with Washington County’s I-Smile program through the Maternal Child Health Grant, said Shelley Van Dorin, Henry County Public Health director.

“I think the more often we can introduce children to dentists in a nonthreatening way, the better off,” Van Dorin said during a board of health meeting on Tuesday, June 25.

During the 2018-2019 academic year in Henry County, 120 students were served through the I-Smile program. Seventy-three of those students were provided sealant at school through I-Smile, which is a thin, plastic coating painted on premolars and molars to prevent cavities. A total of 235 sealants were placed.

Ninety-eight percent of kindergarten students and 95 percent of ninth-graders in Henry County received a certificate of dental screening. These rates reflected the percent of students who submitted a valid certificate of dental screening or a certificate of dental screening exemption in compliance with state law. There were no exemptions.

All schools in Henry County other than Lincoln Elementary School qualified for the I-Smile program. To qualify, schools have to have 40 percent or more of their students on free or reduced lunch, said Martha Hernandez, I-Smile coordinator with Washington County Public Health.

Dr. Matthew Wettech and Dr. Karla Maher volunteered their time to serve students in Henry County through the I-Smile program.

Hernandez said that Mt. Pleasant is fortunate the two dentists are flexible and willing to take a day off work to go into the schools for the I-Smile program.

I-Smile also tracks how sealants were paid for. One hundred and 15 families paid for sealants through Medicaid. Seventy-six had private dental insurance. Twenty-one had Hawk-i. Fifteen paid for it out of pocket.

I-Smile offered free dental screenings at Washington County Public Health last year. She would like to see that brought to Henry County because there was such a great turnout in Washington.

“We want to do that to try to get more kids to do screenings before they go to school,” Hernandez said. “It gives the opportunity to talk to parents one on one and talk about whether or not it’s because of insurance that they haven’t been to the dentist. It’s a good way to refer them to a dentist who takes their insurance.”

Hernandez said that there are no dentists in Henry County taking new Medicaid clients.

“That is one of our biggest struggles,” Hernandez said.

Instead, Hernandez refers them to West Burlington, Columbus Junction or Iowa City.

Hernandez shares with dentists in Henry County about the need for dentists to accept new Medicaid patients, but she said unfortunately there is no change.

She said a lot of times dentists don’t take Medicaid because of the dismal reimbursement fees.

Transportation to dentistries outside of Henry County is a huge barrier to care, Hernandez said. I-Smile does have dental voucher money to help pay for transportation or if they need financial assistance, but even that is limited, she said.

The official Iowa Department of Public Health audit report is expected to be complete in October.