Proposed rule change would help more kids get access to free dental care

Some schools have dental professionals come in and give children cleanings but a North Carolina Dental Board rule says only a person who has been seen by a dentist can be treated. Now, child advocate groups are lobbying for a rule change.

When Liz Beck's oldest son needed preventative dental care when he was five, her family couldn't afford it.

By the time her family got dental insurance and could afford to use it, a cavity had wreaked havoc in the now 10-year-old boy's mouth.

"We weren't able to see a dentist and now what could have been a very small problem became a very large problem," Beck said.

Now, even with insurance coverage, it will cost the Beck family nearly $2,000 to save the tooth.

So when the Clayton woman heard that a state rule was keeping some kids from getting free preventive dental care she was upset.

"Some counties have dental professionals who come to schools and do cleanings and sealants and give kids a little bit of help. And that can actually prevent major cavities and major problems like my son is going through."

But the NC Dental Board's so-called "Prior Exam Rule" will only allow a person to be treated by a dental hygienist if they have already been seen by a dentist.

"Without being able to access that care from a dentist, under the current rule, they're not able to have a hygienist within a public health setting like a school be able to do cleanings, and preventive care that will help maintain good oral health," health analyst for NC Child, Sarah Vidrine, told ABC11.

NC Child and other advocacy groups like Moms Rising have lobbied the NC Dental Board to change the rule.

"Kids in school based prevention programs would have access, under this changed rule, they would have access to increased preventive care. They would be able to get cleanings, and fluoride, and sealants and things that could keep their teeth healthy. They could also get referrals to dentists," Vidrine said. "But right now they're kind of in this catch 22 where they can't see a dentist and they can't get preventive care."

Changing the rule will allow more kids more access to care that could keep away dental decay, the number one chronic childhood disease according to Vidrine.

"It prevents kids from eating, sleeping, learning. And this is a simple and cost effective way to get treatment to more kids to keep them healthy and keep them in school," she said.

Liz Beck knows well that for low and middle income families getting benefits that include health insurance is difficult.

But getting dental insurance is sometimes more difficult.

She said changing the rule to allow children complete access to free dental care could make a big difference.

"It would just really help out so many families in North Carolina that are working hard and doing the best that we can. But there's just a point at which the ends don't meet."

The NC Dental Board is asking for public comments on its proposed new rule through Nov. 15.

The board is scheduled to meet on that that day and the next and vote on the proposal.
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