About 95 children received complimentary dental services Friday as part of the 15th annual Give Kids a Smile.

The free dental treatment day is held in conjunction with Children’s Dental Health Month, which is observed in February. Children receive free screening, preventative treatment and care, according to Liz Addison, I-Smile coordinator at Family Inc. and organizer of Give Kids a Smile.

Each student had their teeth cleaned and got an exam, an X-ray and a fluoride treatment.

As usual, dentists also filled some cavities, applied sealant to some students’ teeth, pulled a couple teeth and identified some children for follow-up care, Addison said.

“We’ll be working with the families after today to connect them to care,” Addison said.

Dentists usually perform care identified at the event pro bono, she said.

Dental staff at BlueJay Family Dental, Broadway Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, My Pediatric Dentist, New Image Dentistry and Omni Dental Care donated their services to make the event possible. Children are pre-selected based on need. The reason most often cited by families for their need was they were unable to find a provider accepting Medicaid patients, followed by a lack of insurance coverage or transportation.

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Medicaid subscribers struggle to gain access to dental care, both locally and across the state, according to a press release from Family Inc., which operates the I-Smile program.

“In Pottawattamie County, 57% of children ages zero to 12 are covered by Iowa Medicaid,” the press release stated. “However, 84% of dental offices in the county are not accepting patients with this insurance coverage.

Family called this a “drastic access-to-care crisis.”

“Only three family and pediatric dental offices in the county are accepting Iowa Medicaid patients currently,” the press release stated. In addition, “43% of Pottawattamie County children ages zero to 14 enrolled in Iowa Medicaid (4,486 children) were without a dental visit in 2020 … It’s also getting increasingly hard to assist families in finding emergency dental care, when the situation arises.”

It’s easy to understand why Iowa dentists are reluctant to accept very many Medicaid patients, the press release from Family Inc. stated.

“The care Iowa dentists provide to Medicaid patients is reimbursed at around 40% of their typical fee,” it stated. “As most Iowa dentists are small business owners, accepting such low Medicaid rates is not financially feasible, resulting in many dropping out of Medicaid altogether.

“For example, the (reimbursement) rate for a child’s dental cleaning has only increased by 57 cents over the last 20 years and is currently reimbursed by Iowa Medicaid at 37% of the customary charge.”

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