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HHC Making Big Strides for Kids’ Oral Health in Brooklyn

A new pediatric clinic to open at Woodhull Hospital; Cumberland Health Center exceeds federal goals to prevent cavities among children.

Rotten teeth and sore gums shouldn’t plague children’s lives anymore, and dedicated dentists at an HHC hospital and a community health center in Brooklyn are helping make sure they do not.

Woodhull Medical Center is preparing to open a brand-new, seven-chair Pediatric Dental Clinic that will serve hundreds of new patients a year, and host three new residents specializing in pediatric dentistry.

And Cumberland Diagnostic & Treatment Center in Brooklyn recently won an HHC Patient Safety Champion award for achieving a high rate of success in placing dental sealants on the molars of pediatric patients between the ages of 8 and 14.

Medical experts increasingly recognize oral health as an important part of overall physical health. In addition to causing difficulty smiling, chewing and swallowing, tooth decay and gum disease have been linked to diabetes and heart disease, among other ailments. And while tooth decay is largely preventable, the Centers for Disease Control reports that it remains one of the most common diseases of childhood – five times as common as asthma, and seven times as common as hay fever.

Dr. Sumitra Golikeri

“Starting children at an early age to help take care of their teeth is very important. It gives them a good baseline for taking care of their teeth as well overcoming fear of the dentist, which many adults have. If we start early, we can minimize disease and prevent a lot of fear,” said Dr. Sumitra Golikeri, DMD, who is a pediatric dentist and the director of the residency program for that specialty. Prematurely losing baby teeth to decay also can cause adult teeth to come in crooked or crowded, she said.

Cumberland’s dental team won an HHC patient safety award in 2013 for achieving a consistently high average from 2011-2012 of dental sealant placement, 81%, which exceeded both the federal government’s objective of 28% for children ages 6-9 by the year 2020, as well as internal benchmarks of 75%.

Dental sealants are thin resin coatings that dentists put on permanent molars to fill in grooves in the grinding surface of teeth, so that bacteria can’t settle in and cause caries, or cavities. They are a supplement to cleaning and fluoride treatment and can prevent up to 60 percent of tooth decay in treated teeth, according to the federal government.

In New York City, an estimated 325,000 children ages 6 to 12 never have received sealants, and more than one-third don’t have regular dental visits, according to a 2011 study by the NYC Department of Health.

Dr. Alfonzo B. Owens III, DMD, MPH, Assistant Director of the Department of Dentistry at Cumberland, says his program has worked to change that by training providers to emphasize to parents the importance of using sealants; examining every child age 8 and over for their presence and providing educational materials about sealants to parents in English and Spanish. Providers also documented parent refusals.

Dr. Alfonzo Owens with Wandie Gonzalez, his dental assistant

Dr. Owens said the sealants are helpful because many low-income and immigrant children seen by the clinic do not visit the dentist regularly, or they have come from places where dentists weren’t accessible. Many also hail from parts of the world and the U.S. where water is not fluoridated, as the New York City water supply is. The Cumberland dental clinic treats about 8,000 adults and children annually in its five-chair facility, which opened in 2009.

“We have a fair population of recent arrivals to New York and they may not have been here long enough to get the benefit of fluoride in their teeth. The sealants are good whether or not they get fluoride. It is an added protection,” Dr. Owens said.

Meanwhile, Woodhull Hospital is preparing to open the doors within the next couple of months on its brand new $2 million state-of-the-art children’s dental clinic, which is expected to serve 10,000 patients annually. It is funded largely by a New York State HEAL grant to extend access to quality primary care for low-income families, said Dr. Peter Sherman, DDS, Chairman, Department of Dentistry, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

The new facility will host the three new pediatric dentistry residents starting in July, and already has received as many as 70 applications, said Dr. Golikeri.

The specialized, dedicated pediatric clinic, decorated in bright, welcoming colors, will provide comprehensive treatment - including for special-needs children - and offer emergency and trauma care as well as orthodontic treatment. It will have digital charting and X-rays, and video screens attached to each patient’s chair for parent and child education and entertainment.

“We are very excited to be opening this specialized clinic and to extend access to this important healthcare service to more children,” Dr. Golikeri said.


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HHC 2014 Stats

  • Staffed Beds: 6,684
  • Clinic Visits: 4,472,960
  • ER Visits: 1,179,436
  • Discharges: 205,791
  • Births: 18,564
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