01/24/11 — Dental patients sought for clinic at Wayne County Health Department

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Dental patients sought for clinic at Wayne County Health Department

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 24, 2011 1:46 PM

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Dr. Chia-Chang Wang, a dentist with the Goldsboro Health Department works with patient Shannon Burlingame. The dental clinic at the Health Department operates on a sliding scale.

If more children sought dental preventive services early, it would likely prevent bigger problems later, local officials said.

The dental clinic at the Health Department has operated for 10 years, catering to insured and uninsured patients. But Health Director James Roosen said there is a glaring need to entice children, especially those covered by Medicaid, to the clinic.

"I'm attempting to do a better job with our dental clinic in terms of outreach and attracting Medicaid children," he said. "The main reason is that less than 50 percent of Medicaid kids in Wayne County see a dentist. Another fact is that last year there were over 400 children referred to a dentist from the school system because of dental needs.

"Right now about 65 percent of our dental clientele are Medicaid. It should be closer to 90 percent."

It's important to reach families with a need, especially in the area of prevention, Roosen said.

As soon as a child's teeth come in, it's time to start caring for them -- brushing, proper nutrution and avoiding putting babies to sleep with a bottle that contains a sugary beverage.

"Baby teeth are important," said Lynne Fulghum, hygienist with the Oral Health section of N.C. Public Health. "Some baby teeth are kept until age 12. The molars in the back are holding a space for permanent teeth, they're critical for a child's proper nutrition.

"Dental problems don't stay the same and actually go downward. For early detection of a problem, you would go to a dentist," said Dr. Chia-Chang Wang, who became the Health Department's dentist five months ago. "For our population, usually they come with problems."

That's something they're trying to remedy, Mrs. Fulghum said.

Not only to prevent possible infections but tooth decay.

"Early childhood decay in children is more common than asthma," Mrs. Fulghum said. "Decay is the most common childhood disease. The only way to get rid of it is to see a dentist, get on a proper routine."

Sometimes the anxiety and apprehension associated with going to the dentist could be alleviated by scheduling a visit before there is cause for concern, the women said.

To develop a comfortable setting, though, Dr. Wang said she tries to create a pleasant atmosphere.

"On the first visit, I don't do something that's aggressive," she said.

"They're just nervous and that's understandable. Some-times you have to build their trust," Mrs. Fulghum said. "I just think that we're blessed to have Dr. Wang here in our clinic so that we can improve the rates of the children that we're seeing, have more and more children come."

The dental clinic does see more adults than children. But that doesn't mean efforts won't be directed toward encouraging parents to bring their children in for preventive check-ups.

Mrs. Fulghum already works in the school system, where she leads educational programs and is responsible for kindergarten and fifth-grade assessments. She also serves as a consultant for other grade levels and such programs as More at Four and Head Start.

"My primary focus is with elementary students," she said. "We're able to see what's going on countywide -- with baby teeth and permanent teeth. ...

"I think the children are receptive. I try in every presentation that I do to do something that makes a mark -- whether it's a puppet, a dance, a song -- that puts a trigger in them. I try to make it fun."

She doesn't often get to speak with parents, but when she does, Mrs. Fulghum said she provides suggestions on what can be done at home. She also recommends dental visits and attaches a referral list of dentists accepting new patients, Medicaid and Health Choice.

"When the parent calls me, though, and tells me they have Medicaid, then I call Dr. Wang and try to get the child seen," she said. "A lot of times when they call me, the child is already in pain. We would rather prevent it."

Roosen said he has recently met with area dentists to increase referrals of Medicaid patients.

"This is not competition because the majority of dentists in Wayne County do not accept Medicaid patients," he noted.

Dr. Wang is also in the process of building a relationship with the dental society in the county to build a referral network between them and the Health Department.

Her sense of pride in the profession, as well as the value of public health, comes from her own background, she says.

A native of Taiwan, she received her advanced education in the U.S. and was drawn to the profession because of her interest in problem-solving.

"I take pride in what I do," she said. "In my previous job, my supervisors say my fillings last longer than others.

"I know I'm good at this, I'm quite artistic -- I draw, I sketch, I'm good with my hands."

She also knows firsthand the value of taking advantage of available resources.

"My mother is a Medicaid patient," she said, the emotion apparent in her voice. "We had very limited resources."

So, while the dentist has previously been part of a group practice and could likely make more money in the field, Mrs. Fulghum said the county is fortunate to have such a compassionate and caring professional in its midst.

"We want to increase the number of children that we're seeing, we want them to know that we have a dentist here that's willing to see their children, that we want their children seen before there's a problem, so that we can have a happy visit and not traumatic visits," she said. "I want the whole county to know that we have an awesome dentist here that's willing to accommodate people, she wants this clinic to succeed and have people come and be happy here and they can call us their dental home."

"Our revenue is from Medicaid patients," Dr. Wang said. "I hope they will utilize their insurance and don't wait -- the longer you wait, the more discomfort, the more money you spend."

The dental clinic can also accommodate uninsured patients but only on a limited basis, Mrs. Fulghum added, noting that they may still qualify for other aid.

Dental clinic hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. To make an appointment, call 580-4050.