Despite the immense need, there is a critical shortage of affordable dental care for low-income children in the Chicago area. To further compound the problem, finding care for children who are difficult to treat – children with special health care needs — is even more troublesome. There is a serious deficit of pediatric dentists, dentists who are specially trained to treat children with special health care needs, that accept Medicaid in the Chicagoland area. Over the past five years, the Children’s Clinic has been working toward increasing access to dental care for these children.
In 2014, the Washington Square Health Foundation provided the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society, sponsors of the Children’s Clinic, a grant to open a new 7.5 hour per week dental clinic for children with special health care needs. After building a successful foundation for the program, in 2017, the Clinic constructed two new private dental operatories designed to meet the unique challenges of our patients with special needs, children with complex or extensive oral health problems and children with behavioral health issues. In addition to the improved facilities, the Clinic was able to expand the amount of days we hosted a pediatric dentist. To support this expansion, Washington Square Health Foundation supported the Children’s Clinic in 2018 and 2019 with grants to fund our increased salary costs for our increased pediatric dentist hours.
Now, the Clinic has three full days per week of pediatric dentistry covered by three part-time pediatric dentists. We also have a University of Illinois College of Dentistry pediatric dental resident working one day per week during the academic school year, increasing our pediatric dentist availability to over 3 days per week during that time frame. Together, these dentists see over 600 patients in more than 1000 visits per year at the Clinic.
Included in those numbers are many unique and medically complex cases that our pediatric dentists were able to treat. For instance, one of our pediatric dentists has built a strong relationship with a 10-year old with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Previously, this patient had to receive dental treatment under general anesthesia. Over time, Dr. Jazmine Dillard, one of our Clinic pediatric dentists, has gained an understanding of the patient’s non-verbal cues and built a trusting relationship. This has allowed for communication and care in the clinic setting, without needing to treat her in the hospital.