Monique Frazier wasn’t worried about her dental habits before last fall, when a nurse told her that germs in her mouth could affect her unborn child.
Frazier didn’t have a dentist then, remembering a botched procedure that was unpleasant and costly, but she wanted to protect her baby.
The nurse directed Frazier to the dental clinic at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, where she received basic dental services, but now she also can get restorative work she needs through the clinic’s latest program funded by a grant from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation.
“I didn’t know how serious it is,” said Frazier, who has nine areas on her teeth that need professional attention. “I can get three cavities filled in three months, and they’ll give me a referral for a root canal. ... They’re really willing to help you and aren’t just leaving you out to dry.”
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The new program is for adults in Horry and Georgetown counties who qualify based on income to have cavities filled at the clinic, located on HGTC’s Grand Strand campus on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The program already has begun, but a formal grant presentation will be held Friday morning at the college’s Thomas C. Maeser Auditorium.
“We want to break the cycle of tooth decay that leads the average citizen who hasn’t had dental care to the emergency room,” said Phil Render, HGTC associate vice president and dean of health sciences. “We are placing adult restorations while the problems are small to save valuable resources that can be employed elsewhere down the road.”
Harvey Galloway, executive director of the foundation, said $300,328 is being awarded over three years to provide dental care for the uninsured and underserved. He said the foundation gives grants related to health care to S.C. organizations, but added dental care in recent years.
“It’s a good program and something we need to do in South Carolina where we have a significant problem with adult dental care,” Galloway said. “The number of people [without dental care] is climbing every day.”
Galloway said Medicaid covers pediatric dental care, but adult dental was dropped a few years ago during budget cuts. He said the Affordable Care Act also doesn’t cover dental, and many people don’t select dental plans because of large deductibles.
The clinic’s services are provided by volunteer dentists and by students from the college’s dental programs and the Medical University of South Carolina. The expanded program is not for toothaches, crowns or bridge work but does address small problems, like cavities, that might otherwise be ignored.
After meeting income requirements, participants in the program, schedule an appointment for a regular dental exam, and then reschedule for their restorative work – no walk-ins are seen. The clinic will be monitored at six-month intervals and reports submitted attesting to the efficiency of treatment.
The restorative program adds a needed service at the clinic, because previous patients were referred elsewhere for the work that often was never done, said Vance Shields, a practicing dentist who also teaches at HGTC and works at the clinic. He sees the value in the work, and more volunteer dentists are welcome to participate, he said.
“A lot of dentists will go to help out of the country in places like Haiti, Belize … but there is a need in Horry County,” Shields said.
Clinic personnel have taught Frazier a lot about brushing, flossing and gum health, good habits she is passing to her daughter, and she is spreading the word about the clinic’s services, she said.
“Why not take advantage of it,” she said. “They’re trying to keep our community healthy.”