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A new dental clinic to open in the Ozarks will expand access to free dental service for thousands of local and needy children. KSMU’s Shane Franklin has details.
There are between 17,000 and 20,000 Medicaid-eligible children, capable of being served by the Children’s Smile Center, says their executive director, Jackie Barger.
“The Children’s Smile Center is a nonprofit organization that provides free dental care for needy children from low income families who live in Christian, Stone, Lawrence, and Berry counties,” says Barger.
Their main clinic started in Ozark in December of 2006. Then in 2011 they added a satellite clinic in Branson-West, and by the first of August, they’re adding their second full-size, full-service clinic in Aurora.
“We average about 650 dental visits every month with our current operation in Ozark and Branson-West. We expect that to go another 400, so it’s a significant growth for our nonprofit organization to go from serving 600 kids a month to 1,000 kids a month,” explained Barger.
The Children’s Smile Center is able to serve these children’s needs by taking the Medicaid reimbursement that the State of Missouri provides. But as Barger would explain, this reimbursement does not pay all the bills. They depend on fundraising through special events, grant writing, and individual donations from corporations and individuals who are interested in supporting dental health for Ozarks’ children.
In fact, because of the low reimbursement rate, only 11 percent of the dentists in Missouri are currently accepting Medicaid referrals, said Barger.
“That means that there are many, many hundreds and thousands of children that are not getting good access to dental care. When I say good access, there are options for them to drive long distances, specifically the metropolitan areas of Springfield and Joplin, but having these clinics in smaller communities, closer to where people are. That makes all the difference in the world. We know that transportation is the number one issue regarding access to service,” said Barger.
This is yet another reason why the new clinic is exciting for local residents, explained Barger, pointing out the fact that every public school in Lawrence County is within 20 miles of the new Aurora clinic.
“Aurora is a very strategic location for what we’re doing and we expect to take care of a lot of kids who urgently, desperately need dental care,” said Barger.
Barger estimates that there are around 7,000 children eligible for their services in Lawrence and neighboring Berry Counties alone, but there are countless rural families that will benefit from the new location.
“[I] just talked to a mom last night from extreme western Christian County who just heard about our new Aurora Clinic. She was so thrilled because that drive is going to be a lot close for her family to take her kids to the dentist in Aurora instead of driving all the way to Ozark. That’s is exactly why we’re building this clinic, to make it much more accessible for families, less time off from work, less gas expense, just less amount of total time to take care of their dental needs,” said Barger.
Even overcoming the issue of transportation, some people are still worried about the debates over Medicaid expansion. Barger says that the children served by the Smile Center will not be impacted because a possible expansion only covers adults who currently have nearly no access to dental care through Medicaid.
“We are a pediatric dental clinic. We plan in the future to continue being a pediatric dental clinic. That’s one of our strengths, that we are able to specialize with staff and equipment and training- to be a pediatric clinic. That’s where greatest need is. Also, long-term you will see that that will have the greatest impact.”
Starting July 30th, the Children’s Smile Center will be providing dental care in Aurora from 8am to 5pm, Tuesday through Friday.