Dentist Brianna Ganson has a picture on her cellphone of a mouth. No face, no name, just a gaping mouth of missing teeth and the rotten teeth she had to pull to render a 6-year-old first-grader toothless.
Ganson wonders about the pain the child must have endured before being seen by Miles of Smiles, the portable dental clinic where she works throughout the Northland. And she wonders what the future holds for this young person.
The missing baby teeth act as space holders for the permanent teeth, Ganson said. Without that natural progression it remains to be seen how the second teeth will be spaced. Orthodontia may never be an option.
What is the cause of dental trauma for that child and many more? It’s lack of education, Ganson said, which includes a diet heavy on fruit juice and soda and lack of dental hygiene. Ganson was in private practice before coming to Miles of Smiles. So was her colleague Brad Babcock.
Without Miles of Smiles, how much longer would the child’s plight have gone undiscovered and untreated? And how many more children are critically in need of dental care and need to be treated? It is estimated that 17,000 children in the Northland are uninsured or underinsured for dental care.
“There is no question there is a need,” said Northland community activist and Miles of Smiles board member Anita Gorman. “This is a fine organization and needs more support. We are only part of the way there. (People) are not always aware of needs in the Northland.”
The 2000 Vision North survey of Northland priorities and needs backs up her statement. Dental care for children was No. 2 behind transportation, said Christy May, executive director of Miles of Smiles.
Initially, a mobile dental clinic, such as an RV, was a suggested solution, but May said that was too expensive and a logistical nightmare. The concept then evolved into the portable dental program that exists today. Instead of children going to the clinic, the clinic goes to them at a familiar location: their school. Bringing the program to the children aids the families since transportation and time are barriers for some parents, as well as the expense, May said.
“We try to make it as convenient and easy as possible.”
The program is free to those who meet the criteria based on 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines and size of family. Revenue for the $900,000 Miles of Smiles budget comes from Medicaid, grants, donations and fundraisers such as a luncheon scheduled for April 10 at the Argosy Casino.
May becomes a little emotional talking about the generosity of the late Irven E. and Nevada P. Linscomb, whose foundation was created to provide for children in Platte and Clay counties. Miles of Smiles, its signature program, was founded and is funded by the Linscomb Foundation, May said, receiving $500,000 a year. The foundation is managed by Bill Zimmer, president of the Miles of Smiles board, who set it up at the request of Linscomb.
“Mrs. Linscomb is up there smiling down,” May said.
With the initial grant, May bought a van and hired a dentist in 2002. She visited school districts to introduce the program and recruit their support. Today, among the 10 districts headquartered in the Northland, only the tiny Missouri City district does not participate. However, students from there can be seen in Excelsior Springs by appointment.
The program has two vans, two full-time dentists and one who works part time. The organization can also see patients in its office on North Oak Trafficway.
A new office will open in June at 53rd Street and Antioch in a larger space.
“It will provide two operatories,” May said.
In 2014 more than 2,400 children in 26 schools had 7,042 chair visits. Patients are 3 to 18 years old. May is adding more schools.
“Clay and Platte counties cover so much area,” she said.
“It is a win-win,” said Paul Fregeau, assistant superintendent for Student Services in the North Kansas City School District. “It is a win for the families and a win for the district as an added service we can provide.”
Last week a van was at Gracemor Elementary in his district while the second team was doing checkups at Line Creek Elementary School in the Park Hill district.
School Social Worker Marla Anderson had scheduled the students at Line Creek in advance and provided the room. Ganson and two dental assistants set up the equipment from their van, and clinic began.
There were no tears, no overt anxiety and the comment was made that the “kiddos,” as May calls them, were better patients than some adults. Ganson, however, was heard to say quietly, “Don’t bite” as she applied a treatment to the child’s teeth.
Following the cleaning and examination, each child was given a bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss and invited to take a new pencil and a sticker from the reward basket.
Fourth-grader Elecia Douglas gave everyone a thumbs-up with a big smile before hopping off the table. Parents and guardians receive a report, and follow-up appointments are scheduled if needed, said Ganson. Extractions and fillings can be done at the office where nitrous oxide is available if needed. Families are reminded to schedule a six-month checkup and cleaning at the program’s office, May said. Emergencies are handled there as well.
At the beginning of each school year, Anderson sends a confidential Resource Checklist home with each student. Families can check what resources are needed, she said, and she follows up. In some schools the school nurse performs that function.
“In the summer we visit where the patients are,” May said. “The Salvation Army donates a room for the 64118 ZIP code. The Liberty School District provides a room in the central office. We go to the Platte County Health Department in Platte City and we use a community room off Chouteau Trafficway.”
Miles of Smiles also provides a day a week dentist for all the kids in the Synergy Youth Resiliency Center.
The program continues to grow as word travels, May said, “but there are still little kids who have never seen a dentist, (who are) living on soda and juices.”
She and her board hope to change that.
The Brush up on Spring Fashion luncheon is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. April 10, at the Argosy Casino. The cost is $50 per ticket. For more information or to make reservations call 816-413-9009 or visit www.milesofsmiles.org.