Public dental practice expanding

An additional 1,500 children will be served by an expansion of Catawba County's dental health practice, health officials say.

Construction crews began renovating Catawba County Public Health’s (CCPH) dental health practice this week, and it's a project leaders say will double square footage, update and add new equipment, and provide more adequate public and private areas.

The dental practice will remain open under current hours during the renovations. Construction is set to be completed within about 60 days, said Kelly Isenhour, CCPH assistant health director.

“Our space now, it is very, very tight,” Isenhour said, adding that there is currently not enough space to properly serve the practice’s clientele.

Last year, the practice served about 1,186 children ages 1-21 and has averaged about 1,500 children each year since it began operations in 1994. After the renovations are completed, however, Isenhour said the practice will look to double the numbers it’s serving.

Most of the dental practice’s clientele comes from children in low-income families, and a lot of clients are referred by the Department of Social Services, school nurses and other community sources.

The expansion will help the practice serve more of that clientele that, for the most part, doesn’t have other outlets for dental attention.

In 2010, 44 percent of Catawba County residents up to age 21 who received Medicaid did not have access to dental services. Additionally, only 38 percent of children ages 1-5 received dental service compared to 45 percent statewide, according to statistics provided by public health.

As a whole, however, the dental practice has been successful at preventing the children it serves from developing reoccurring dental issues.

Public health data shows 62 percent of fifth-grade Catawba County children have sealants, compared to 44 percent statewide. Between 2004 and 2009, dental decay among Catawba County kindergarten children has decreased 42 percent, compared to a 26 percent decrease across the state.

“We see a lot of great needs in terms of cavities, and so we want to make sure we get them into care early and have them establish a dental home,” Isenhour said. “Now, we’ll have double the capacity to do that.”

She said the expansion has been in the works for a number of years and will include, among other things, updated dental equipment, including digital and panoramic X-rays.

Other additions include:

• improved patient confidentiality through separate patient check-in/check-out areas and a private consultation area.

• electronic scheduling and patient records.

• an education station, which will offer tooth-brushing sinks.

• double waiting room space, and an increase in dental operatory rooms from three to six.

The new space, which will total 2,750 square feet, is something staff has been looking forward to for a while, but Isenhour said it all comes back to the client.

“The client will be able to come into a space that is comparable if they were going to a private dentist. I think they will come in and say, ‘Hey, they are really interested in serving us as best as possible.’”