Governor announces statewide dental initiative
Program aims to get more children preventive care
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced in Seat Pleasant on Tuesday the state's partnership with Kool Smiles, a network of dentists that provides dental care to the uninsured, as part of the state's continued effort to provide dental care to underserved communities in Maryland.
Kool Smiles offers preventative and restorative dental care to children under Medicaid and through the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health care for uninsured children in Maryland.
The network operates three locations in Maryland—two in Baltimore and one in Prince George's County, on Marlboro Pike in District Heights. All three centers see an average of 22 children per day who have never been to the dentist, said Jerry Burke, Kool Smiles' regional director for government relations. Since September 2008, the centers have treated 18,000 children who were visiting the dentist for the first time, Burke added.
The network of dentists in Kool Smiles will supplement those in an existing network of dentists available through the Deamonte Driver Dental Project, which was co-founded by Dr. Belinda Carver-Taylor and Dr. Hazel Harper in November 2008 as an effort to expand dental health care to underserved populations in communities statewide.
O'Malley came to Seat Pleasant Elementary School to make the announcement of the state's partnership with Kool Smiles, because the school also participates in the Deamonte Driver Dental Project. Under the partnership, the Kool Smiles centers will become part of the Deamonte Driver Dental Project's network.
Last year, 70 to 75 percent of the 300 students at Seat Pleasant Elementary used the services of the Deamonte Driver Dental Project mobile van, which has two dentist chairs and equipment to evaluate students and refer them to a dentist, said Seat Pleasant Elementary School Principal Kasandra Lasiter.
In announcing the program, O'Malley praised the students of Seat Pleasant for their commitment to academics, citing their pass rates on the Maryland School Assessments in math and reading. Nearly 90 percent of students in the school passed the test last year, compared with a pass rate in the 30th percentile five years ago.
The students' ability to excel in academics depends on their physical and oral health, the governor added.
"We know that the reputation of this school has out of every other school is being leaders," O'Malley said. "That's why the health of your teeth is important."
O'Malley was joined by John Colmers, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Prince George's County schools Superintendent Dr. William R. Hite Jr., and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
The Deamonte Driver Dental Project received $288,106 in 2008 from the state to operate its mobile van. The project is named in memory of Deamonte Driver, 12, of Largo, who died at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in February 2007 after an infection from an abscessed tooth spread to his brain.
Other Prince George's schools that participate in the program include Adelphi Elementary, District Heights Elementary, District Heights' Concord Elementary and Morningside Elementary and William Beanes Elementary, both of which are in Suitland.
Thirty percent of Maryland school children have untreated cavities, Colmers said.
Cummings recalled growing up in south Baltimore without adequate preventative dental care. He added that it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat Driver and that no child anywhere should be deprived of dental care that could cost under $100.
"We're going to do every thing in our power to make sure he didn't die in vain," Cummings said.
E-mail Natalie McGill at email@example.com.