Dental clinics serving uninsured struggle to fill seats
A clinic in Manchester is at 50 percent capacity for hygiene visits; a Concord clinic is at 10 percent capacity
Despite a slow economy and an increased number of people in New Hampshire without health insurance, local community dental centers say they aren’t seeing nearly as many patients as they have the capacity to help.
The Easter Seals community dental clinic in Manchester is at 75 percent capacity for restorative dentistry and 50 percent capacity for hygiene visits, said Dr. Earle Simpson, who retired from a private practice to run the Manchester clinic and founded another low-income clinic in Concord called Saving People’s Smile Dental Center. The Concord clinic, Simpson says, is at 25 percent capacity for restorative dentistry and 10 percent capacity for hygiene visits.
“As you can see, we could certainly be treating more patients,” Simpson said.
Part of the problem in getting people in the door, he said, is human nature.
“A lot of the adults we see only seek treatment when there’s pain and discomfort,” he says. “Until then, they don’t pick up the phone. That’s the frustrating part, because we’re here to help and people just don’t take advantage of it.”
Simpson and his colleagues say education is their best weapon, and he does his best to get information into the hands of those who need it. That usually means working with other social service agencies that might refer a client, and making sure potential patients are given as much information as possible.
“We write letters, and some people read the letters and pick up the phone and contact us,” he says. “A lot of people get the information and throw it out.”
Outreach is key, Simpson says, for getting to the people who aren’t able to advocate for themselves. Through the clinics, he and others take a van to local schools and see patients in the Merrimack County Nursing Home’s on-site dental center.
The majority of Simpson’s patients are on Medicaid, which pays only for x-rays and extractions for adults. He bills Medicaid for surgeries and applies for grant funding for other services, such as dentures and partial implants. Medicaid coverage is much more comprehensive for children, covering services like cleanings, fillings, sealants and fluoride.
“The thing that drives me is being a parent,” he said. “For a parent to look at their child’s mouth – and the feeling of helplessness when you know something is wrong – they need somebody who can say, ‘Your child is fine, we’re going to take care of it.’ That’s the whole concept: to say, ‘I have a place to go and somebody is going to help me.’”