Dentistry is one of the major services the Bradley County Health Department provides to qualifying residents of the community. It’s not only on the local level, but regional coverage for students on the free and reduced-price lunch program in Cleveland and Bradley County schools.
Dr. Fred Woolwine is the full-time dentist at the Health Department, assisted by Kimberly Mayfield. Other medical personnel can help with some dental needs, such as cleaning and related procedures.
Woolwine is funded with a state grant, but is a Bradley County employee.
The health department’s dentist works four days each week (Monday through Thursday) from early morning to about 3:30 p.m. The health department makes appointments two weeks ahead, with a few open slots for emergencies.
“We do simple dentistry, focusing on kids,” Woolwine said. He added that he sees about eight times more children than adults.
Woolwine and Health Department Director Eloise Waters emphasized that most of the clients seen by the dentistry staff in Bradley County are from TennCare enrollees. “There is a sliding fee based on income for the others,” she said.
She said the health department used to have a lot of no-shows for dental appointments, before Dr. Woolwine joined the agency in 2003. “That’s when we changed the time to two weeks out,” she said. “We now have approximately 85 percent of our appointments show up, where it was 25 to 30 percent.”
Waters added that the health department gets a lot of transient clients, and they may be here one day with a phone disconnected the next day. “Oftentimes it’s hard to reach them to confirm their appointments,” she said.
Woolwine and Mayfield handle appointments, but they get few school-based referrals.
Dr. William Peck is the regional dental director for the health department office in Chattanooga. He and his staff coordinate the state’s dental program in locals schools.
Peck said the program screened 3,052 school students last year, with the students having to be on free and reduced lunches to qualify for the service.
In addition to the screens, Peck reports 889 children received complete dental examinations, 792 received pit and fissure sealants, and 3,535 received a teeth sealant. He said all of these services have an approximate fee value of $160,000.
Other statistics show there were 791 clinical dental visits last year, with a fee value of another $125,000 to $150,000.
“Our philosophy (at the health department) is to focus on prevention,” said Woolwine. “We do cleanings and checkups and try to generate interest (in dental care). This way, we have a little hope with the youngest patients.”
Woolwine emphasized that every child needs a dental examination by the age of 3, regardless of the family’s income. “If they have any (serious) problems they need to see a specialist,” he said.
The two dentists agreed that the state program, through local and regional health centers, is all about prevention for children as a way to prepare them for the future.