What's next for CincySmiles after cut in state funding leaves many students without dental care?

Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-10 07:00:09-05

CINCINNATI -- A cut in state funding for a Cincinnati nonprofit could mean an increase in cavities for students in Adams, Brown and Clermont counties.

CincySmiles Foundation at the start of December ended its dental sealant program in the three counties, after losing funding from the Ohio Department of Health for the program.

“I do think that funding is very tight at the state level,” said Sonya Dreves, president and CEO of CincySmiles Foundation.

Created in 1909, the foundation serves low-income residents of Greater Cincinnati by ensuring the availability of dental care and education in three ways.

In addition to providing services on-site for juveniles at schools and social service agencies, the organization offers care for the impoverished, homeless and elderly at an Over-the-Rhine dental center. For those unable to access services due to transportation or other issues, the foundation has a referral program to match them with dentists in their community offering discounted or donated services.

The foundation began the dental sealant program -- the first school-based dental sealant program in the country -- in 1984. Through the program, mobile sealant teams visit partner schools where at least 50 percent of the student population are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. With parental consent, the teams perform preventive procedures like cleanings and apply dental sealant on molars for children whose families are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“We are very disheartened that the program no longer exists,” said Mike Shumate, principal of Buckskin Elementary School in Greenfield Exempted Village School District.

Prior to Dec. 1, the foundation served roughly 4,000 students a year at more than 100 partner schools in Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Adams, Brown and Clermont counties. The dental sealant program is still offered in Butler, Warren and Hamilton counties, and no other programs have been affected by the loss in funding.

Aside from a tight budget at the state level, Ohio Health Department representatives may be looking for a larger organization already in Adams, Brown or Clermont county to provide services, Dreves said. For now, though, the loss of the dental sealant program may leave many families without access to dental care.

“There’s not many providers out here, and there’s definitely a need,” said Nicole Walters, school-based nurse practitioner for Western Brown Local Schools.

The district, which has partnered with CincySmiles for 18 years, has more than 300 students at its elementary and middle schools who benefit from the program.

Even if families have access to a dental provider, those who are in the area can often cost more than low-income families are able to afford.

“A lot of our students have never been to the dentist in their life,” Shumate said.

Neither Western Brown nor Greenfield Exempted Village Schools have any plans in place to fill the need created by the recent service cut.

“We’re hoping somebody would pick that back up,” Walters said.

“Our plans are to try to help the program get back up and going,” Shumate said.

CincySmiles leaders are trying to find funding to reinstate the dental sealant program in the three counties where the service was cut, but they currently don’t have any strong contenders to do so.

“There’s not a lot of dental funding opportunities out there,” Dreves said.

The financial obligation needed to reinstate and maintain the dental sealant program in Adams, Brown and Clermont counties would be about $100,000 annually, she said.