Many people avoid the dentist's office out of fear, but some don't go because they can't afford it.
Eight percent of children in New York State are uninsured, according to a study by the Children’s Defense Fund, and many of those children are going without dental care.
Many low income families depend on clinics for dental health care. In the Bronx, St. Barnabus Hospital’s dental health department serves as one of those resources. At St. Barnabus, between 73 and 75 percent of dental patients are on assistance of some sort. “We are really the final net for these parents,” said pediatric dentist Paul Chu. “This is it for a lot of parents and we don’t take that responsibility lightly at all.”
The waiting room is usually filled with parents on welfare, like Nancy Barrera. Barrera brought her five-year-old daughter to the dentist for the first time this month. Her daughter came in for a checkup, but ended up needing much more. “They have to do a root canal and they have to take out two teeth,” Barrera explained.
Pediatric dental assistant Rima Parikh said patients like Barrera’s daughter are common with a lot of patients "in dire need for dental care.” She said that’s because many of these parents do not bring their children in for regular visits to the dentist, and the damage accumulated by the time children finally see a dentists is severe.
Dr. Chu explained that many parents don’t understand that poor dental hygiene could not only lead to cavities but gum disease, heart disease and infections. He says often, unhealthy teeth can have a negative snowball effect on well being. “There are so many kids where cavities keep them from school and not going to school affects their future, so it’s not just [about] the cavity it’s their overall health."
Dr. Jackie Samuels owns a private dental practice called “Creating Smiles” in the Bronx and serves on the executive board for the Bronx County Dental Association. Of the relationship between poverty and poor oral health, she said “there is a lack of education and a lack of resources."
But it's more than a lack of information keeping low-income kids away from the dentist, Samuels said: “Parents with less monetary resources are not always able to leave work to take their child to a doctor."