Supervisors agree to provide $10,000 to help youth dental program remain active

Monday, March 13, 2023

LE MARS — Dental woes aren’t just painful for kids. They can lead to decades of misery and expense.

That’s why oral care and early screening are so important, a health care professional told the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 14. The board agreed to provide $10,000 to Cherokee County Public Health to provide children’s health and oral services to “those most vulnerable in our community,” according to a letter to the board from Cherokee County Public Health Public Health Manager Kayla Mayer.

Cherokee County Public Health, working in concert with Upper Des Moines Opportunity, is stepping up to take over the testing from Mid-Sioux Opportunity. While Mid-Sioux Opportunity did not apply to continue this service, it will still operate the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program as well as maternal health guidance.

Oral and health screening for kids is vital, Mayer explained, along with Dee Graettinger of Upper Des Moines Early Head Start. They spoke to the supervisors via Zoom.

Children who receive Medicaid funding to cover health costs are eligible for the program, they explained. There are 2,233 children enrolled in Medicaid in the county — 9 percent of the overall population. Of those kids, 31 percent were served by MidSioux’s oral health program.

Overall, a lack of dental care is a hidden but painful — physically and fiscally — in Iowa. Forty percent of Iowans under 19 are enrolled in Medicaid, and 51 percent did not receive preventative dental care in 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Health. That left 179,000 young people without proper care.

“There are kids who don’t have medical or dental homes,” Mayer said.

Supervisor John Meis said the board members supported the proposal.

“I think the consensus is yes,” Meis said.

Mayer said the program will serve 10 counties in northwest Iowa, including Plymouth, Cherokee, Clay, O’Brien, Lyon, Sioux, Osceola, Emmet, Palo Alto and Dickinson. She said so far, every county board she has appeared before has agreed to help sponsor the program.

Mayer said ideally, the program will be self-sustained by Oct. 1, 2024. She said grant money and Medicaid reimbursements will ensure it is fully funded.

The program will hire a manager, a full-time registered nurse, a part-time registered nurse, a full-time Early Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program manager, two full-time equivalent dental hygienist positions, a part-time community outreach staffer and part-time billing person.

As part of the Early Childhood Iowa I-Smile program for kids, recipients will have oral health screenings and sealants, developmental screenings for disabilities and screenings for lead. The use of sealant programs in schools shows, on average, an 81 percent reduction in cavities over a two-year period, the supervisors were told, and a 40-percent drop over four years.

Preventable dental surgeries cost millions of dollars annually, Mayer reported. She said in 2018, $44 million was spent on children’s dental surgeries, and Medicaid paid for $32 million of it.

“It costs $11,000 for a 3-year-old to receive a preventable outpatient dental surgery,” a handout to the supervisors and local media stated. Two checkups a year can reduce the likelihood of dental surgery and they cost a total of $345.

Mayer said lead in paint in old buildings, on toys made years ago and other objects such as fishing lures, can be very harmful to kids if taken orally. In fiscal year 2022, MidSioux performed 975 lead tests in Plymouth County.

In addition, child-care providers will receive training to help promote oral health and overall health.

Clinics will be held monthly in Le Mars, starting in either March or April, Mayer said. Kids will be checked at the lower level of the Le Mars Convention Center, 275 12th St. S.E., on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month.

Testing will take place from 10 a.m to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Wednesdays. Testing also takes place annually at schools and twice a year at preschools and Head Start programs.

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