- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - FamilyCare Health Center is trying to reach more children in need of dental care in southern West Virgina, and on Dec. 22 accepted the first piece of funding for its new “Miles of Smiles” Dental RV, a mobile dentistry unit equipped to provide basic care to kids in Putnam and Boone counties.

The center, which has clinics in Kanawha, Boone and Putnam counties, has had a mobile dentistry practice for more than five years, according to Martha Carter, CEO of FamilyCare Health Centers. The Wal-Mart Foundation presented the center with $1,500 to go toward funding its new RV on Dec. 22, and Carter said FamilyCare is working toward developing more grants to fund the new vehicle.

“The Sisters of Saint Joseph have donated $2,500, and we have some other potential local foundations that will probably help us fund it,” Carter said. “We only see children right now on the mobile unit, and only children who don’t have a regular dentist. If they have an established dentist, we prefer they see them, but if they don’t, our mobile unit is available to them, and parents can sign a consent form and we come to them.”

In the last year, FamilyCare’s main dental clinic provided 4,300 dental visits, and its mobile unit performed 180 more, Carter said. Rebecca Erwin, a dental hygienist and the school-based oral health coordinator for FamilyCare, said the RV provides oral health assessments, cleanings, fluoride treatments, X-rays and sealants, and often refers children to area dentists for more involved care.

“The need is out there,” Erwin said. “I know other dentists don’t want to hear this, but it’s hard to get some kids into a dental home. It’s hard to get parents to take them to see a dentist; when we go to a school, it’s all right there for them. Parents don’t have to go anywhere or take them anywhere, and it’s easy for them.”

In March of 2014, FamilyCare’s mobile unit became the subject of scrutiny after performing dental work on the wrong child in a Boone County elementary school. Daniel Holestin, a student at Brookview Elementary School, mistakenly received a filling after being confused for another student with a similar name.

Carter said that since that incident, FamilyCare has been proactive in re-evaluating their practices to ensure a similar mix-up would not happen in the future.

“We have reviewed our processes and put triple-checks on them,” she said. “The schools are also more aware now - the schools really wanted us to continue, regardless of that one case . we don’t want people shying away from the program because of that.”

Between 2005 and 2008, only 41 percent of Medicaid-eligible children under the age of 20 in West Virginia had visited a dentist in the last year, according to Carter. The state also ranks the highest nationally in the rate of elderly West Virginians who are missing teeth, and FamilyCare is currently working on a grant that would allow the agency to provide mobile services for adults, Carter said.

“It is a huge need,” she said. “It would be for any adult who may need care but who may not have coverage, because we offer care on a sliding-fee scale.”

To learn more about FamilyCare, visit www.familycarewv.org.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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