The 15th annual “Give Kids a Smile” dental clinic was held at Doña Ana Community College on Feb. 3. As in previous years, the clinic provided some relief for uninsured children in the Las Cruces area.
“People really utilize the opportunity to bring their children to this event. We have seen the same families come year after year. Some of them don’t have dental insurance, so they really take advantage of this event for the free comprehensive exams, free preventative fluoride, and cleanings,” said Cher Lefebvre, senior hygiene clinic coordinator at DACC.
Based on statistics provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of children in New Mexico without health insurance is just eight percent. While this percentage may seem low, it’s unclear how many children in New Mexico have dental coverage, since not all private health insurance policies include oral health care.
Lefebvre indicated the hygienists see 85 to 100 children each year. “We want people to know that this is a nationwide call to provide care to kids whose parents might not have access to health or dental insurance,” Lefebvre said.
This call was one that was heard by Diana Aguillar, a stay-at-home mom and parent to her two younger children, Amy and Alan Garcia.
“I came today because I don’t have to worry about expensive co-pays and insurance fees. This event has been good for my children to receive the dental care they need,” Aguillar said.
While insurance access, coverages and fees seem to be one of the bigger issues addressed by this clinic, Keon Aghar, a volunteer dentist from Roswell, New Mexico, shared another problem.
“For certain populations and areas, (physical) access to health care in New Mexico is very easy,” he said. “But for rural communities there are month-to-month waiting lists for dental care, with patients even having to go to Albuquerque for services.”
“The New Mexico legislature is voting to cut access to rural health care by half, cutting millions of dollars out of the budget, which in the long term is going to affect the health of these kids,” Aghar added.
Aghar said he drove all the way from Roswell to be part of the free dental clinic because he knows that the clinic is crucial to citizens of rural areas, such as Cloudcroft or Silver City, who drive to Las Cruces to receive the free dental care.
“Events like this, where you prevent future issues, future cavities, gum disease, etc., really goes a long way in keeping these children healthy and minimizing the amount of cost of health care,” he said.
With a strong belief that prevention is the biggest way to alleviate health care costs, not only for parents, but for the state as well, Aghar eagerly worked with many parents throughout the day. He provided not only dental care, but education to parents on their children’s dental routines and diets.
The event, a nationwide program started by the American Dental Association, is sponsored by Henry Schein, a popular dental product company.
“Every year Henry Schein actually donates all the supplies to us,” Lefebvre said. “(Henry Schein provides) the polishing paste, fluoride, gauze, bibs, and most recently, dental sealants, which are helpful in preventing cavities in children.”
Lefebvre indicated there were over 1,300 clinics occurring nationwide that same day, all made possible by volunteer dentists and dental assistants. The clinic held at DACC was made possible by the students of the hygiene program, and local volunteer dentists.
“We have six local dentists that took time out of their own practice to come help us today,” Lefebvre said. “And we have our dental assistants providing activity tables outside the clinic to raise oral health care education and (organizing) fun activities for the kids.”
Lefebvre said that DACC advertises the event beforehand to help get the word out to parents, encouraging them to make an appointment beforehand to avoid a waitlist. The clinic serves children from ages 0–18, and ran from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. this year.