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Mon June 21, 2010
Economy Project: Low Cost Dental Care Difficult To Get
By BJ Austin, KERA News
Dallas, TX – Going to the dentist is NOT a chore for many people these days, it's a dream. A visit to the dentist is out of reach because of the high cost and lack of insurance. This month in our Monday economy segments, KERA is identifying low cost medical and dental care. Today, BJ Austin looks at some low-cost dental care options.
The sound of a dentist's drill can often make a strong man cringe. But it's music to Rodney Shank's ears. He's had a growing tooth ache for three months - unable to find treatment he could afford. But then his daughter searched the internet and found Dental Health Arlington. It's a low-cost, non-profit clinic funded by United Way, the city of Arlington, and grants.
Shank: I broke my tooth off and it started decaying. I guess it got into the root. And it's over, man. I can't even sleep at night. I called dentists. I called everywhere. And they're all booked up for months and expensive: 150 to 350, plus the office visit.
At this clinic, it's 35 dollars for the exam and X-rays; 65 dollars to get a tooth pulled. That's a discount of at 60 to 70% off the customary cost.
April Harris runs Dental Health Arlington.
Harris: It's shocking the numbers of how many people need this and how that's growing with people, the layoffs and cutting back on insurance.
The clinic takes telephone appointments on one day, every-other-month. Harris says the slots fill up in about an hour, and they have to turn away large numbers of callers each time. The next appointment call-in day is July 16th.
Debby Kratky, of Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, says the agency gets of a lot of requests for low-cost dental care from clients who want to look good for job interviews.
Kratky: We refer them to John Peter Smith and hope for the best because honestly, it isn't as if there is affordable, free dental care for anybody. In fact, homeless individuals have a better chance of finding some sort of dental care than the average person who is making 25 thousand dollars a year.
Navigate the recession with KERA! Get tips on avoiding foreclosure, access job resources and more at kera.org/economy. People seeking dental care at Tarrant County's Public Hospital must go through a screening process to determine if they qualify for reduced rates. One non-profit provider says "screening" takes up to two months, plus a waiting period for an appointment. JPS officials did not respond to requests for an interview.
Calling 2-1-1 can lead to other resources. It's a state network that refers callers to low-cost social and medical services in their communities.
In Tarrant County, calls to 2-1-1 for low cost dental services increased more than 30% last year. Referrals include JPS, and Geisel-Morris Dental Clinic in Fort Worth.
Dallas County's 2-1-1 offers similar referrals. Community Dental Care, a non-profit, provides treatment for low income patients at five Parkland Hospital clinics, and five other locations.
You will pay something, but costs are reduced or based on income. It's easier to find affordable dental care for children. Under Medicaid or CHIP, parents pay little or nothing.
And there is another option: Baylor College of Dentistry - the only dental school in North Texas. Students need practical experience, and by participating in the classroom-clinic, patients get deep discounts on treatment. Dr. Dean Hudson says they take calls for screening appointments every Wednesday morning. There is a non-refundable 57 dollar screening fee, and no guarantee you will be chosen as a patient. He says patients must be able to meet certain requirements.
Hudson: They're able to pay for that care as it goes. It's pay as you go. And they're able to understand the more lengthy patient time in the chair and in the process that's required for our students to learn.
Dr. Hudson says you can save 30 to 50% off the normal cost. There is also a Baylor children's dentistry program which accepts Medicaid and includes orthodontics. Medicaid does not cover adult dental care. Baylor screens about 150 people a week, and treats more than 20 thousand a year. But, Dr. Hudson says those numbers don't come close to meeting the demand for the discount dental services.
Across North Texas, private foundations and faith-based organizations are recognizing the need and trying to fill the gap. At Cornerstone Assistance Network in Fort Worth, Mike Doyle is creating a free dental clinic. It will be available to low income people without insurance. He's still fundraising to buy a second "chair" and necessary dental equipment.
Doyle: We want to make sure we have the processes in order, that it's a nice atmosphere. And so we want to make sure everything's in order before we open the doors because we know the word will spread very rapidly.
The Cornerstone free dental clinic should open "NEXT" summer.
For more information on low cost dental care go to KERA.org/economy. You will also find previous stories with information about using the public health system and low-cost medical clinics.