Low-income Children Keep Their Healthy Smiles

Thanks to the Creston Children’s Dental Clinic, more than 500 children have been seen by volunteer representing dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants.

The oral health status among children in Oregon does not bode well for healthy smiles, especially those of low-income children. In fact, according to the results of the 2012 Smile Survey, conducted by the Oregon Health Authority during the 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 school years, children from lower-income households had higher cavity rates compared to children from higher-income households (63 percent vs. 38 percent), almost twice the rate of untreated decay (25 percent vs. 13 percent) and more than twice the rate of rampant decay (19 percent vs. 8 percent).

Despite the fact that tooth decay rates for school-age children in Oregon remain above the goals set by Healthy People 2020, there is a beacon of hope in southeast Portland that is filling the gap one student, one smile, at a time.

Located within Creston Elementary School, Creston Children's Dental Clinic is the only school-based dental clinic in Multnomah County. The clinic provides dental care for uninsured children, K-12, in the Portland Public Schools who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. The clinic also accepts Oregon Health Plan patients with Moda Health, Capitol Dental Care or Advantage Dental insurance. Many of the children who visit the clinic haven’t seen a dentist in more than three years. Some have never been to a dentist.

From 1962-2010, the Assistance League of Portland sustained the clinic financially, including volunteer and staff support. After 48 years, due to capacity limitations, it could no longer sustain the clinic and the doors of the Creston Clinic might have closed. That’s when the Friends of Creston Children's Dental Clinic stepped in.

A non-profit created by Drs. Kurt Ferré, DDS, Dr. Dale Canfield, DMD, and Lora Mattsen, executive director of the Multnomah Dental Society, took over stewardship of the Creston Clinic in February 2010.

The next step was building a sustainable model for the clinic. Ferré, Canfield, and Mattsen recruited Barry Rice and Sue Sanzi-Schaedel, RDH, MPH, as the first members of its board of directors, and Ferré is its board president.

“The three of us (Ferré, Rice, and Sanzi-Schaedel) worked to really keep this thing (the clinic) going in a sustainable way, but a lot of people came together to save the clinic.” Rice said. “It’s much easier to keep a ball rolling then to have to start over.”

Unlike Ferré and Sanzi-Schaedel, Rice isn’t a dental practitioner but that doesn’t limit his ability to work on behalf of the clinic. In fact, Rice has been representing and working with dentists in Oregon since 1976, including a 20-year stint as the executive director of the Oregon Dental Association and executive positions with the Oregon Dental Service Insurance Company and Advantage Dental.

Rice, Ferré, Sanzi-Schaedel and the rest of the board and volunteers have done more than keep the ball rolling. While continuing to serve low-income children, the clinic is now completely volunteer run with dentists and hygienists to reduce operating expenses and devote resources to a comprehensive strategic plan and state-of-the-art equipment.

“We now have the best dental technology than any place (in Portland). The dental industry in Oregon has been very supportive,” Rice noted. “We have been very fortunate to receive donations from dental supply companies.”

The high-tech environment of the clinic may be lost on the children who are just happy to have relief from their tooth pain, but it’s not been lost on young dentists eager to work with the latest equipment. While most of the volunteer dentists are currently practicing, by making volunteer opportunities available to the younger generation means there’ll be a lasting core of volunteers in the future.

The Oregon Health Plan has played a role (in the financial stability of the clinic) too. But it’s the volunteers who make the real difference, Rice said. “They’ve been very generous in doing that (working on a volunteer basis).”

Last year the work of the 110 volunteers represented $439,415 of dental services, and together the dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants saw 540 children for a total of 1,778 patient visits.

The Friends of Creston Children’s Dental Clinic has a seven-member board of directors with representatives from the dental, educational and business communities.

“It (the clinic) is a great community resource,” Rice said.




Joanne can be reached at [email protected].

Image for this story by Jason Mullins (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr

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