Underserved Communities Get $6.7 Million in Free Care



Kool Smiles has provided $6.7 million in uncompensated dental care to underserved communities via its affiliated dental practices through June 2015. The organization also expects to provide more than $13 million in uncompensated care by the end of the year.

Kool Smiles was founded on the belief that every person deserves a dentist, including those without any form of insurance,” said Dr. D. Ray Gifford, managing dental director of Kool Smiles. “Although we are proud to accept Medicaid and other insurance plans that most dentists do not, we also recognize that there are specific procedures that the ADA or American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend where no specific reimbursement is available.”

By the age of 5, Kool Smiles reported, about 60% of children in the United States will have tooth decay, which can lead to malnutrition, life-threatening infections, poor school performance, and reluctance to speak, smile, and play. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call tooth decay the leading chronic infectious disease among children in the United States.

Yet according to the Pew Center, tens of millions of disproportionately low-income children go without seeing a dentist each year, which can lead to pain, worsened health, and costly emergency room visits for untreated dental problems. Analysis of federal data by the ADA shows that emergency room visits doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2012, or one visit every 15 seconds.

“We recognize that emergency care is the last, least effective option to solving the oral health crisis in America,” Gifford said. “That’s why we also invest a significant amount of our time and resources in community programs that provide dental health education and teach preventative healthcare.”

Last February, Kool Smiles launched Sharing Smiles Day. Its volunteers provided free dental care including exams, extractions, baby tooth root canals, and crowns to more than 450 children who didn’t have dental insurance. Additionally, Kool Smiles provides free dental health lesson plans and dental kits to K-5 classrooms throughout the year.

The organization’s outreach programs also include Operation Troop Treats. The annual Halloween candy exchange program benefits U.S. military personnel serving overseas. Through their partnership with Operation Gratitude, Kool Smiles and its patient communities have donated more than 4 tons of candy and sent 600 care packages to troops serving abroad since 2012.

Founded in 2002, Kool Smiles operates more than 120 dental practices across 15 states and the District of Columbia, primarily in underserved communities that have historically lacked sufficient providers for the Medicaid patient population.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, about 80% of dentists do not accept patients with Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Plans, citing low reimbursement for their services, among other reasons. About 80% to 90% of the Kool Smiles patient population consists of Medicaid or SCHIP enrollees.

“Children who have regular access to a dentist are likely to be healthier and happier,” said Dr. Polly Boehnlein, DDS, MS, a board-certified pediatric dentist and managing dental director of Kool Smiles. “It is a rewarding experience to see children smile proudly and with confidence after receiving the dental care they need. No child should be deprived of access to dental care due to family finances.”