BUFFALO, N.Y. — Tooth decay is the most chronic disease among children. In one year, more than 51 million hours of school is missed because of tooth decay or other dental-related illness. And even when children with dental problems can attend school, research shows that these problems are distracting enough to impair classroom learning and behavior.
Yet, in all of Chautauqua County, there is only one pediatric dentist who accepts Medicaid. The children of Chautauqua County, however, have not gone without dental care — in fact, the care comes to them.
Every year for the last 14 years, the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine has been serving the oral health needs of Chautauqua County’s children through its school-based mobile dental unit (MDU), a van that is outfitted with two dental chairs and staffed by three UB dentists, a dental hygienist and a dental assistant.
UB’s MDU dental staff has provided care during 38,000 patient visits since 1997.
Barbara Moore, DDS, UB MDU clinical director, who has been treating MDU patients since 1998, expresses how meaningful her work is: “We treat more than 1,700 kids a year who might not get dental care without our visits. I enjoy providing care to these children; they need us. I know that when I treat them, I’m helping their dental needs, which affects their overall health.”
But the UB dental care provided to the Chautauqua county children is in jeopardy. While UB’s MDU van is aging and needs to be replaced, state budgets have been cut and funds for this service are scarce. The initial cost of replacing the van is $500,000.
In addition, changes in Medicaid funding reimbursement have been modified making it difficult for UB to staff the MDU van with the requisite dentists and dental hygienists.