Dental clinic provides kids' care parents can sink their teeth into

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003

For the most part, very little is different.

Examination chairs are surrounded by state-of-the-art cleaning equipment. Everything is well sanitized and smiling faces are there to greet children apprehensive about their first encounter. Cool looking sunglasses are availed to block the glare of the exam lights and a small stuffed puppy "K-9" is given to youth to hold onto as an added source of comfort.

And for the very young ones, toys and stickers are offered as incentive to get through the whole ordeal.

These amenities, and many like them, can be found on a visit to Aspen Dental Clinic in Kenai. But this is not what sets the new pediatric dental care facility apart from other dental offices on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Aspen is a haven for families that otherwise might not be able to afford dental care near their homes. Since it opened its doors in April, the clinic has been offering service to those with little or no health insurance.

"A few years ago, we did a survey of the health needs in the community," said Deric Marcorelle, chair of the Central Peninsula Health Center Inc. board, one of the organizations that helped bring the clinic into being.

"We found over 3,000 children on the peninsula that were either uninsured or underinsured and need dental care."

In addition to catering to this need, the clinic is the only central peninsula facility that accepts Denali KidCare.

"We got Denali KidCare in October, but no dentists here take it," said Kim Good of Kenai. "We even called Homer and they wouldn't take us because we weren't from there."

Denali KidCare is a state-funded health insurance program designed to provide medical coverage for eligible children through age 18, based on household income.

Good's four children became eligible for the program last fall when her husband was laid off from a job on the North Slope and lost company benefits.

"Even when we were on insurance, we had a hard time finding a dentist that they were comfortable going to," she said about her kids, ages 17, 16, 8 and 6.

"My 6-year-old daughter was seeing a dentist in Anchorage. The dentist in Anchor-age dropped us when she found out we didn't have insurance."

Vi Hancock's 18-year-old son, Ian, was able to benefit from the clinic. A recent Nikiski Middle-Senior High School graduate, Ian was eligible for Denali KidCare because he moved out of his mother's care and had several fillings and a referral to have all four of his wisdom teeth removed in July.

"He saved so much money," Hancock said of her son. "So we appreciate it very much."

Ian Hancock said because he was on Denali KidCare, he didn't have to pay out of pocket for his visits. In addition, he said he appreciated not being treated "like a kid."

"They treated me like an adult," he said. "The dentists are pretty young so they all get along with the kids who are like 16 or older. They're in their mid-20s, so they can relate to us."

The facility has four part-time providers, two who travel from Anchorage periodically and two who share time at area dental offices. Site manager Anne Evans said the clinic currently is recruiting for a full-time general dentist, although they have been able to work their way out of a backlog of appointments they have had since they began seeing patients in April.

"We maintain a very busy schedule," she said. "We've been full to capacity, and as (openings) come available, they become filled pretty quickly.

"But now we don't have to schedule appointments months out. We can do them just weeks ahead."

The clinic, on the corner of Main Street and Barnacle Way in Kenai, is taking appointments. For more information, call 283-7759.

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