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Low-income dental assistance coming to Bremerton

Dr. Lucas Trerice educates a patient on proper brushing technique Tuesday in Tacoma. - Contributed Photo
Dr. Lucas Trerice educates a patient on proper brushing technique Tuesday in Tacoma.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

The first buildings for the planned east Bremerton Youth Wellness Campus are on their way, and one of the first groups to move into the campus this fall will be Lindquist Dental Clinic.

Lindquist is a nonprofit that provides dental services to children of low-income families. From birth to their 19th birthdays, children can receive dental care at one of the nonprofit’s four south sound clinics regardless of compensation.

The nonprofit has clinics in Parkland, Tacoma, Buckley and Gig Harbor. The Bremerton campus will be its fifth.

With its Tacoma and Gig Harbor clinics, Lindquist partnered with the Boys & Girls Club. When its Bremerton clinic opens, the two groups will once again team up — the dental clinic will share space with the Boys & Girls Club teen center.

Carolyn McDougal, Lindquist’s president and CEO, said the Bremerton center will be a six chair clinic, operating on 1,500 of the wellness campus’s 10,000 square feet.

“We’re anxious to be able to get to know people in the county,” McDougal said.

McDougal said the nonprofit had been looking to add another center when they were approached by the Bremerton wellness campus’s steering committee, of which Mayor Patty Lent and Bremerton Superintendent Flip Herndon are members.

“If Bremerton had a youth wellness campus, it only makes sense that you’d have dental care,” McDougal said.

Perhaps one of the biggest assets the dental nonprofit brings to the Bremerton area is its agreement with TRICARE, the insurance coverage plan for military personnel and their families.

Naval Base Kitsap employs more people in the county than any other employer by a wide margin, many of them in Bremerton.

According to McDougal, military-dependent children don’t receive dental coverage. TRICARE covers their medical but not their dental services.

“(TRICARE has) allowed us to provide care to those families that qualify, according to their income level and size, without charging co-pays and deductibles,” McDougal said.

The wellness campus will be located on Wheaton Way, in the heart of Bremerton School District’s coverage area. The campus will actually be situated on land owned by the school district.

School district community relations coordinator Patty Glaser said dental care is a big concern for low-income students in Bremerton.

“That has been an issue for decades in our school district,” Glaser said.

Oral problems caused by a lack of dental care is the number one reason students from low-income families miss school, according to McDougal. A report by the Surgeon General in 2000 stated “more than 51 million hours are lost each year to dental-related illness.”

Glaser said that while she wasn’t sure if dental issues were the highest cause in Bremerton, it has been a major issue.

“Students who don’t have access to dental care who come to school with dental problems are not focusing on their education,” Glaser said.

Lack of TRICARE coverage coupled with Bremerton’s high poverty rate accentuate the area’s need for affordable dental care.

More than 60 percent of students in Bremerton come from low-income households. Some of the district’s schools, such as West Hills STEM Academy, have low-income enrollment rates as high as 75 percent.

Glaser said the district has been trying to inform parents about how to access dental care for years. However, Glaser said, the issue has evolved from simply getting out information to finding dentists who are willing to accept Medicaid, since most will only accept a limited number of Medicaid patients.

“I think (Lindquist) will definitely increase the number of possibilities for our families that are in need of dental care,” Glaser said.

Because need for dental care in Bremerton was greater than available care, the Department of Health had been referring families to Lindquist’s clinics in Gig Harbor and Tacoma. For the families Lindquist serves, McDougal said, traveling that far for dental care is a luxury they often can’t afford.

McDougal wanted to preemptively comfort Bremerton dentists who might feel threatened by the nonprofit moving into the area.

“The TRICARE patients they’re seeing probably aren’t the ones we’re going to be seeing,” she said. “The ones we’ll be seeing probably can’t afford it, probably aren’t taking their kids to the dentist.”

McDougal said the nonprofit doesn’t want to step on dentists’ toes. It’s simply there to provide dental care to children who otherwise wouldn’t receive it. She said Lindquist is supported by dentists in Pierce County and would like to work side-by-side with dentists in Kitsap County.

The preface of the 2000 Surgeon General’s report goes as far as to say dental and oral disease in some population groups amounts to a “silent epidemic.”

The report concludes, “The evidence that not all Americans have achieved the same level of oral health and well-being stands as a major challenge, one that demands the best efforts of public and private agencies and individuals.”

It is that call to action which Lindquist Dental looks to answer.

“We’re looking to be a resource,” McDougal said. “There should be no reason why there’s a child in your community that doesn’t have dental care.”

 

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