When an 8-year-old girl came to the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) in October 2021, she was in great pain. An examination revealed that she needed almost all of her primary molars extracted.
Just over a year later, the extractions had been completed, crowns had been made for intact primary molars, and sealants had been placed on permanent molars — at no cost to the girl’s parents who are recent immigrants and uninsured.
The girl’s dental care was provided as part of UMSOD’s Oral Health for Underserved Uninsured Children (OH-UUC) program, which aims to expand access to dental care for children from Baltimore and surrounding areas.
“Many of these patients’ parents have recently come into the country, have few resources, and don’t know where to go for help,” said Anna Juambeltz, DDS ’21, a second-year resident in UMSOD’s Division of Pediatric Dentistry.
In addition to the extractions, Juambeltz said, UMSOD clinicians fabricated orthodontic appliances that would ensure the integrity of the dental spacing in the girl’s mouth.
“We made the dental appliances in-house because it is less expensive, and we really try to do all we can so that there is no charge to these patients,” she said.
Meeting a Growing Need
Despite significant improvement in the last 15 years in oral health care for Maryland children, great need remains. More than 25 percent of Maryland children under age 17 (an estimated 375,861 children) lack sufficient health insurance, according to the 2018-19 National Survey of Children Health Outcomes, and 48,000 Maryland children do not have health insurance, primarily because they are not eligible for Medicaid.
The OH-UUC program offers services including examinations, preventive care, and comprehensive restorative care. The facilities available to OH-UUC at UMSOD include a 22-chair pediatric dental clinic dedicated to children under the age of 18 years. Providers in this clinic include six full-time faculty, eight pediatric dental residents, and 250 dental students who participate in patient care on a rotational basis.
“I have never seen anyone’s face light up as much as my patient’s parents,” said Jennifer Kim, DDS ’21, a second-year resident who is providing treatment to a 5-year-old boy who presented with nearly 20 cavities. “Now they have a dental home. He is halfway through his treatments, and it seems like it will be a happy ending for him.”
Working with Regional Community Partners
For the past decade, the OH-UUC program has worked with regional community partners to identify and refer patients, serving up to 400 children annually. The children — for reasons ranging from poverty to immigration issues — need education about and access to quality oral health care and a dental home.
“Every child deserves to have a dental home. OH-UUC represents an essential building block for improving oral health in a population that’s often overlooked,” said Vineet Dhar, BDS, MDS, PhD, assistant dean of postgraduate and professional studies in dentistry, clinical professor, and chair of the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry at UMSOD, who oversees the program.
Now, thanks to two recent $100,000 grants from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation of Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, UMSOD will be able to expand Baltimore-area children’s access to oral health care, regardless of their household’s ability to pay.
“I am deeply grateful to both foundations for their support, which will allow us to provide essential dental treatment to children who truly need it,” Dhar said. “I also would like express my appreciation to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Foundation and the Maryland Department of Health for their support during the last three to four years; their grants helped lay the foundation of the current program.”
The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation works with nonprofit partners across 15 states and the District of Columbia to strengthen communities by increasing access to dental care and oral health education and supporting organizations doing this vital work. This is the second consecutive year that the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has supported OH-UUC.
“Over the last two years, Delta Dental’s generous grants have allowed us to formalize the program,” Dhar said. “They allow us to increase visibility, expand our horizons, and make the model more sustainable.”
The Abell Foundation focuses exclusively on Baltimore City and supports organizations that work to reduce racial disparities in access to health care.
“Partnering with Abell is great because the foundation’s focus is similar to ours: Baltimore City, where the need is greatest,” Dhar said. “It’s great to find mission-aligned partners who will work with us to support these children.”