Mouthful of words

If Kool Smiles loses its Medicaid contract as expected on Aug. 31, some 71,000 children in Georgia will be without dentists, Kool Smiles executives said.

“We currently have 10 dental offices throughout the state of Georgia, including Columbus, with a mission to provide high quality dental care to underserved, low-income children,” Dr. David Strange, Kool Smiles' chief dental officer, said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Atlanta office. He said that oral health is significant in a child's overall health, and a limited number of dentists accept Medicaid patients.Without a contract, the Kool Smiles office in Columbus will close.

Dr. Vanessa Downer, dental director for the West Central Health District and an adjunct professor at The Medical College of Georgia, said that some people affected by Kool Smiles' lost contract may not know the Columbus Health Department has operated a full-service children's dental clinic for about 30 years.

“We serve the underinsured and the uninsured,” Downer said.“We serve Medicaid, PeachCare and we have a sliding fee scale that's based on income for those who don't have insurance.”

The Health Department dental clinics will not lose Medicaid income, Downer said. And she would, in fact, like to serve some of Kool Smiles' former patients.

“We'd like them to know we're here and ready to take them on,” she said.

As part of the Health Department, the dental clinics provide services in the 16 counties that make up the health district. In some instances, service is provided in a mobile unit. The mobile unit is typically set up in outlying areas and schools — such as the Head Start program.

The mobile dental program is about two years old; and it's a fully equipped dental clinic, Downer said. If they are at a school, for instance, they stay at that site until all the patients have been seen.

On an average day in Columbus, Downer and a hygienist serve 20 to 50 patients, she said.