VANCOUVER, Wash. -- More than 100 kids and their parents sat patiently in packed waiting rooms and hallways in a small building on Clark College’s campus on Saturday. For many, it’s their only chance for a dental exam all year.
“Children who maybe don't have dental insurance, those are the ones we're targeting. Or the families who just can't afford to get the dental care,” said Kristi Taylor, program director of the college’s dental hygiene department.
Saturday’s event marked the 11th annual free children’s dental clinic at the college.
It ran from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., and it was staffed by 25 dental hygiene students, alongside a handful of local dentists.
For some of the kids they see, it’s a race to make up for years of dental neglect.
According to the Washington Post, the American Dental Association estimates more than one-third of American adults have no dental coverage, and until recently, that automatically trickled down to their children.
For now, the Affordable Care Act mandates providers offer dental coverage to those under 19, though that stipulation has recently been in jeopardy amid efforts by Congress to repeal and replace the plan.
Currently, all states are required to provide dental benefits to children on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Still, last year, more than 2 million U.S. emergency room visits were attributed to neglected teeth.
Taylor wasn’t surprised.
“We see a lot of decay, unfortunately, and we see a lot of decay on permanent molars that are coming in. So it's a huge issue,” she said.
Joseph McFarland, 6, already has a crown. So does his 5-year-old brother.
His dad, Aaron, has dental insurance, but he shudders to think about kids and families who don't.
“I’m really grateful for being in the country I'm in because it could be so much worse. But I think we can always work to get everyone else dental care that they really need because everybody's a human being and they deserve this,” he said.
If you missed Saturday's clinic and wish you hadn't organizers recommend you keep it on your calendar for next year.
It's always the first Saturday in February. It is by appointment only.