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Restorative work added to dental clinic's services for poverty-level children

A $10,000 grant from the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation will play a major part in funding the Pierce County Public Health Department's dental clinic and will allow the clinic to offer more services.

Over half of the children seen at the Preventive Dental Health Clinic need restorative work such as fillings, said Public Health Director Caralynn Hodgson. She said, when the clinic opened two years ago, the staff estimated 10 percent of its clients would need restorative work, but the percentage has been much higher.

The grant will help pay for additional equipment and supplies such as an amalgamator and a high-speed hand piece to begin providing minor restorative procedures.

County supervisors have repeatedly insisted the clinic, staffed by a volunteer dentist, receive no subsidy from tax money.

The grant will also pay a dental assistant to work one day a month to help Dr. Barb Tashjian, who will do some of the restorative work. Other children will be referred to other dentists or to the Rural Health Dental Clinic in Menomonie.

The Pierce County clinic has an annual budget of about $26,000. Last year, 23 clinics were held and 227 clients were treated.

Most patients receive exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants.

Hodgson said most restoration work will be glass ionomer fillings for very small crevices. The fillings also slowly release fluoride to prevent future tooth decay.

The clinic's support comes mostly from donations and payments from Medical Assistance, said Hodgson. She said the clinic will stop doing restoration work if, at any time, there aren't grants, donations or fees to pay for it.

"We'll be going for small new grants this year," she added.

"At no time will we be offering orthodontics, esthetic, complex restorations or other elective dental services," said Hodgson.

In late December, the Menomonie clinic, which provides services to low-income clients from seven counties, received another $75,000 in federal income augmentation funds.

"I was so pleased when I heard that," said Hodgson. "They've been taking all the ones we refer. Because BadgerCare and Medicaid pay such low reimbursement rates, fewer and fewer dentists take low income patients."