Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

Currently: 97° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Dental care for needy facing uncertain future

Image

Justin M. Bowen

Genevieve Allen, a fourth year dental student at UNLV, works on Joseph Guarine Saturday, as the UNLV Dental School of Medicine faculty and students put on three clinics to treat local children, veterans, and women referred by Shade Tree Shelter. The clinics are designed for people who do not qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured. The event also provides UNLV dental residents with clinical experience.

UNLV Dental School of Medicine Clinic

The UNLV Dental School of Medicine faculty and students put on three clinics Saturday to treat local children, veterans, and women referred by Shade Tree Shelter. The clinics are designed for people who do not qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured. The event also provides UNLV dental residents with clinical experience.

Launch slideshow »

When Vietnam veteran Ted Mattos, who is on partial disability for post-traumatic stress disorder, needs his teeth cleaned, he goes to the UNLV School of Dental Medicine. He donated $20 for his care on Saturday, and that was optional.

When single mom Patricia McCreery needed fillings for two of her children, she took them to the UNLV Shadow Lane Clinic, which offers a monthly Saturday morning children’s clinic. About every six weeks, the clinic also brings in low-income veterans and women from the Shade Tree Shelter. About 67 patients were served Saturday morning at the free dental care clinic by 110 dental school students, staff and faculty volunteers.

“They didn’t go for five years,” McCreery said about her youngest children. “I didn’t have insurance for five years, I worked at Wal-Mart. Sure, they had Medicaid, but the wait was so long for that and things just came up. Now I want to teach them to keep their teeth right. Both my parents had dentures at the age of 25. I don’t want them to have the same.”

These Las Vegans, and about 38,000 others a year, regularly go to the UNLV programs, which offer care at reduced prices and regular free clinics for those who qualify. Could Mattos get this anyplace else? He shakes his head. He’s looked. And it would cost McCreery, who now has insurance in her job as a city bus driver, $350 in co-pays for each child to catch up on all that needed dental work.

That doesn’t add up.

But neither does the state budget. And that’s not looking so good for 2010.

Dental school officials fear that higher education budget cuts will devastate their program and the population it serves.

“We serve children whose parents can’t afford care,” said dental student Jeremy Cox. “A lot of them have cavities that are so bad, they can’t sleep at night.”

The dental school, 1001 Shadow Lane, is looking at a proposed 19 percent cut next year. It’s operating now on a $23 million budget, one-third of which comes from the state. To make state budget cuts in 2008, the school already laid off 16 full-time staff. Dr. Michael Sanders, dental professor and interim chair of clinical sciences, wonders when it’s going to end.

“If budget cuts are implemented at the level proposed, it would be devastating to this institution,” he said. “If we lose that money, faculty would have to be cut, appointments would be cut.”

Sanders would have to eliminate all his part-time employees and 10 of his full-time staff to make that proposed cut.

“And I couldn’t run it (the school and clinic) with 16,” he said. The school employs 26 full-time faculty in clinical sciences.

Sanders couldn’t teach all the classes required by the American Dental Association and run the clinic. Appointments would be reduced substantially. The school graduates about 75 dentists a year. It has 82 freshmen this year.

He wonders how putting people out of work helps the crippled economy. And he questions how cutting dentistry for the needy is a solution, since teeth can make or break an employment interview. “Someone who is being interviewed for a job, and that employer sees bad teeth, that turns people off,” Sanders said. “Right away people make assumptions about you that often aren’t true.”

Good dental care encourages self confidence and that’s integral to success in employment.

“There’s always a story I tell about a patient we had who worked in a stockroom for years, his teeth were so bad,” Sanders aid. “But we fixed him up with a pair of dentures and now he’s a salesman working in the front with customers.”

For information on registering for future clinics call the school at 774-2400. The next free children’s clinic is May 23. The free clinics are designed for people who do not qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

No trusted comments have been posted.