WAYLAND, Mich.— Some smiles are in jeopardy across West Michigan, and it all has to do with limited access to the dentist office.
Many dental offices in Michiagn aren't accepting Medicaid, so more patients are declining to get their pearly whites checked out. However, health experts warn dental check-ups and cleanings are more than a cosmetic issue, it could be affecting your overall health.
If you have a tooth ache, or a cavity the dentist is where you go, but if you’re on Medicaid there’s very few clinics or offices that you can head to, and even the clinics that are up are in jeopardy of shutting down, and it’s all because they are losing money accepting Medicaid.
Dentists at Wayland Dental Clinic like Elizabeth White are inundated with patients, seeing about 30 or more per day.
“People usually say it’s because they haven’t had the dental insurance, and they can’t find anyone around to take their insurance,” said White.
Most of White’s patients have never seen a dentist before, and that means serious dental and health issues like cavities, root canals, rotting teeth, and the list goes on.
“It's not just about a pretty white smile. It's also about making sure you don't have gum disease or any cavities. That's also part of it because there is a link between having gum disease and things like cardio vascular disease and diabetes as well,” said White.
Although the Wayland Clinic’s goal is to treat everyone to the best of their ability with the proper care, they have a huge disadvantage.
“Medicaid doesn’t reimburse dentists the full cost of the treatment, so we take a big loss on that,” said White.
In fact, to get a patient something like dentures, the clinic ends up paying 40 dollars, and not making any money. That’s why dental offices like Robinson Dental Office won’t accept it.
“We probably get 10 phone calls a day if we accept Medicaid,” said Kayla Weber an office manager at Robinson Dental Care.
Kayla Weber refers all Medicaid patients to the Wayland Clinic despite their there month waiting list.
“Rarely you’ll find a dentist in the West Michigan area that will take Medicaid, just because the reimbursement rate is so low. It actually ends up costing us money,” said Weber.
There were nearly 131,000 people on Medicaid in Kent County three years ago leaving most to forgo going to the dentist to avoid paying out of pocket.
“Most people are ending up in the emergency room trying to get their tooth treater and in reality they are just getting sent home with antibiotics, and possibly pain medications, and they aren’t treating the actual problem,” said White.
$1 million dollars were spent in 2011 for emergency room services relating to oral healthcare. All of them were oral emergencies that could have been avoided with a bi-yearly appointment.
“I feel like I am serving a purpose for patients who don't get to see a dentist. A lot of them never have means to go to a dentist, and now we've opened a place for them to go.
But the fight to keep the clinic’s doors open will be the challenge.
The Robinson dental office actually donated the space to the Wayland Dental Clinic for their services. They know how important it is to give people the dental services they need. The Wayland Dental Clinic is waiting on Allegan County to sign off on a federal grant that would allow them to double their reimbursement rate from Medicaid, and they say it wouldn’t cost the county anything. The county has yet to approve it.