01/22/04 — Dental trailer brings help to Duplin children

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Dental trailer brings help to Duplin children

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 22, 2004 2:03 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County is getting a new tag-along trailer to keep records from the mobile dental program.

The county Health Department's dental clinic for children has grown so much it's run out of space for all the records.

The new trailer, which will cost about $19,000, will be used for administrative work space and storage of charts from the children's dental records. It will be self-contained with a generator.

The Duplin County commissioners approved the purchase Monday.

Health Director Ila Davis told commissioners that before she came into public health in 1991 in Sampson County she thought everybody had running water, indoor plumbing and dental care.

But there she found children with teeth rotted to the gum line. "We'd ask the mom, 'Is the child in pain? Can they eat?' -- knowing all the time we'd have trouble getting them help. ... They're at the mercy of adults who set priorities."

Transportation was already a problem. Then, the dental problems the children had would be too extensive for the dentist, who would want to send the child to Chapel Hill.

She came to the Duplin County Health Department in 1998 and found the same problems -- transportation, finding a dentist.

Ms. Davis, as the departments head nurse, had seen many cases of nursing bottle tooth decay and molars that had cavities in them to the point where there was barely any tooth left.

"We started researching what sort of clinic would suit our needs," she said. I ate, slept and dreamed dental care for two years. We chose a mobile dental unit."

She wrote the grant, and it was awarded.

The van arrived and was placed into service in 2000.

"The need was critical," she said.

She said the mobile dental clinic is one of public health's best successes. The first dentist to work in the mobile clinic, Dr. Natalie Bland, said she had never seen dental problems like she saw in Duplin County.

"The condition and rate of dental decay here is unbelievable," said Ms. Davis.

But now, she said, she no longer has to put a child on a six-month waiting list for Chapel Hill.

She said she's proud of the mobile dental clinic and its fight to stop "the epidemic of dental decay."

Some people have complained about the clinic caring only for children.

Ms. Davis said the grant she wrote did not include adults. "In the beginning, we had some vacant slots and saw adults. Now, we're seeing so many children we don't have spaces for adults.

"We're not equipped to do a lot of dental work on adults," she added. The mobile clinic would need a lot more equipment for taking care of adults' dental needs, she said, and now, the dental unit can barely see all the children who need it.