Lina Kim gave kids something to smile about last Friday: Her new dental practice in Magnolia offered children from low-income families free dental care.
The one-day event was Kim’s first time participating in the Give Kids a Smile program, which the American Dental Association (ADA) organizes annually to raise awareness about the importance of dental health in children. Patient visits to Kim’s practice were arranged beforehand by the Seattle-King County Dental Society (SKCDS) and the Washington Oral Health Foundation (WOHF).
According to the ADA Web site, children’s teeth are open to tooth decay as soon as the very first nibblers come in. A SKCDS placard mailed to dentists in the Seattle area said 45 percent of preschoolers from low-income families show signs of tooth decay; 25 percent receive no treatment for their condition or have limited access to oral health care.
The numbers climb as the children grow – 59 percent of low-income children in elementary school have tooth decay. “They have a lack of access to care,” Kim said. “They come from large families where it’s hard to go. Sometimes the family doesn’t have a car. It’s hard to plan a visit or it’s just too much to take the bus.”
Many families are eligible for free or reduced-rate health-care vouchers from the Department of Social and Health Services. But some kids don’t get care they need because few private dental offices accept the vouchers. “The reimbursement rate is very low, if not minimal,” said Kimberly Reyes, a dental assistant at Kim’s other office, in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.
“A lot of parents, even if they have coupons, don’t know they have dental coupons,” said Ruth Abate, administrative assistant at the Oral Health Foundation. “It really surprised me.”
Abate has been spreading word about free dental care around the Seattle area, leaving flyers about the WOHF and its services at the Ballard Community Center, coffee shops and schools such as Lafayette Elementary School in West Seattle and the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center on West Government Way and 36th Avenue West.
James Goldsmith was among the parents who brought their children to Kim’s practice on Friday. His 4-year-old son Carson came in for his first dentist visit, slipping on a pair of shades and chatting with him about Spongebob Squarepants. Carson was Kim’s first patient at the new practice. Kim sang songs to him as she checked his teeth – and even found a few cavities. Kim asked his father about the 4-year-old’s tooth brushing habits. Carson doesn’t like toothpaste, Goldsmith said, and brushes his teeth with water. His father was hesitant about using fluoride – which he learned would protect Carson’s teeth – but later changed his mind.
Also at Kim’s practice was Wendy Wilson and her daughter Madison. Like Carson, the 8-year-old didn’t make a fuss about getting her teeth cleaned. “She was concerned she would need to be numbed,” Wilson said. “But I assured her that wouldn’t happen.” Madison wore giraffe-patterned sunglasses, got her teeth cleaned and received sealant so that the grooves of her pearly whites would be protected from cavities. But Madison wasn’t the only one with a smile on her face – Kim and the rest of her staff were beaming. Kim says federal reimbursement for her work isn’t the No. 1 priority. Instead, she enjoys the satisfaction and gratification of being helpful. “I helped save a mouth,” she said, smiling.
Lina Kim Dental is located at 3150 West Government Way. (206) 985-0232.