GF dental clinic to host 'Give Kids a Smile Day'With 17 general-practice dentists volunteering their assistance, Korsmo hopes to see 25, maybe 30 local children — some of whom may find themselves in a dentist’s chair for the first time in their lives.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Grant Korsmo has seen the pain, discomfort and disfigurement in the face of a child whose family was unable to provide regular dental care or afford insurance.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a child’s smile destroyed by severe tooth decay,” he said. “Imagine not being able to eat, sleep or pay attention in school because you have a toothache.
“These kids are trying to live a normal life, spending time with their friends, and it’s pretty much impossible.”
Korsmo, dental director at Valley Community Health Centers Dental Clinic in Grand Forks, will see more of those children on Feb. 4 when his clinic hosts the city’s third “Give Kids a Smile Day.”
With 17 general-practice dentists volunteering their assistance, Korsmo hopes to see 25, maybe 30 local children — some of whom may find themselves in a dentist’s chair for the first time in their lives.
Disease brought on by cavities “is the most chronic childhood disease,” Korsmo said.
“It’s almost been a daily occurrence here. By the time we get the child in, they haven’t seen a dentist ever. But those baby teeth serve a purpose: They allow a child to eat and get proper nourishment, of course, but they’re also holding space for permanent teeth.
“By the time a child gets that first tooth, about age 1, is when they should see a dentist,” he said. “It’s improving; I have 2 and 3-year-olds in the chair all the time now. But a lot of time, we still don’t see kids until they’re 5 or 6 years old, and by that time these problems have already started.”
Debbie Swanson, a nurse with the Grand Forks Public Health Department, said the dental care provided to children through “Give Kids a Smile Day” and throughout the year by Valley Community Health Centers is vital to making the city a good place for kids.
“Until very recently, children with Medicaid insurance had to travel outside the community to get dental care,” she said. “Currently, only one private dental practice in Grand Forks is able to accept Medicaid insurance for new patients.
“Valley Community Health Centers closed this gap when they opened in 2007, and since that time more than 4,500 people from the region have been able to get care.”
About half of those patients have been children under 17, Swanson said.
N.D. needs more dental partners
Korsmo said it’s difficult for general dentists to see children and adults on Medicaid because of tight reimbursement formulas and a greater tendency among those patients to not keep appointments, which also eats into dentists’ bottom line.
With support from the Northern Valley Dental Health Coalition, “we’re able to see those people,” Korsmo said — about 4,500 patients served in the clinic since 2007, half from Grand Forks County and the rest from 23 other counties. The large regional draw suggests the state needs to build more public-private partnerships to increase access to oral health care, he said.
“This ‘Smile’ day is for kids who fall through the cracks,” he said. “Dental work is not cheap, and cost is a very big hindrance for people. The only way I can do it is with the help of general dentists.”
Last year, about 15,000 dentists participated in the “Smile” effort nationwide. In its first two years in Grand Forks, volunteers have worked on about 50 children. In 2010, half of the children examined in Grand Forks had cavities in 10 or more teeth, Korsmo said.
Families interested in receiving free dental care for their children may schedule an appointment for “Give Kids a Smile Day” by calling the clinic at (701) 757-2100.
On Feb. 4, “we’ll screen the kids, give them a cleaning and fluoride treatment, and make a follow-up treatment plan,” Korsmo said. “Those plans will be sent to the participating dentists, and they’ll complete the work in their offices at a time that’s convenient for them.”
The treatments will be “mainly fillings, and probably some extractions,” he said. “There have been a few situations when we’ve done emergency stuff and got the kids out of real pain, and they’re pretty happy. Their parents are pretty happy, too.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.