Sunday, March 29, 2009 | 9:48 a.m.
When Vietnam veteran Ted Mattos, who is on partial disability for post-traumatic stress disorder, needs his teeth cleaned, he goes to the UNLV School of Dental Medicine. He donated $20 for his care on Saturday, and that was optional.
When single mom Patricia McCreery needed fillings for two of her children, she took them to the UNLV Shadow Lane Clinic, which offers a monthly Saturday morning children’s clinic. About every six weeks, the clinic also brings in low-income veterans and women from the Shade Tree Shelter. About 67 patients were served Saturday morning at the free dental care clinic by 110 dental school students, staff and faculty volunteers.
“They didn’t go for five years,” McCreery said about her youngest children. “I didn’t have insurance for five years, I worked at Wal-Mart. Sure, they had Medicaid, but the wait was so long for that and things just came up. Now I want to teach them to keep their teeth right. Both my parents had dentures at the age of 25. I don’t want them to have the same.”
These Las Vegans, and about 38,000 others a year, regularly go to the UNLV programs, which offer care at reduced prices and regular free clinics for those who qualify. Could Mattos get this anyplace else? He shakes his head. He’s looked. And it would cost McCreery, who now has insurance in her job as a city bus driver, $350 in co-pays for each child to catch up on all that needed dental work.
That doesn’t add up.
But neither does the state budget. And that’s not looking so good for 2010.
Dental school officials fear that higher education budget cuts will devastate their program and the population it serves.
“We serve children whose parents can’t afford care,” said dental student Jeremy Cox. “A lot of them have cavities that are so bad, they can’t sleep at night.”
The dental school, 1001 Shadow Lane, is looking at a proposed 19 percent cut next year. It’s operating now on a $23 million budget, one-third of which comes from the state. To make state budget cuts in 2008, the school already laid off 16 full-time staff. Dr. Michael Sanders, dental professor and interim chair of clinical sciences, wonders when it’s going to end.
“If budget cuts are implemented at the level proposed, it would be devastating to this institution,” he said. “If we lose that money, faculty would have to be cut, appointments would be cut.”
Sanders would have to eliminate all his part-time employees and 10 of his full-time staff to make that proposed cut.
“And I couldn’t run it (the school and clinic) with 16,” he said. The school employs 26 full-time faculty in clinical sciences.
Sanders couldn’t teach all the classes required by the American Dental Association and run the clinic. Appointments would be reduced substantially. The school graduates about 75 dentists a year. It has 82 freshmen this year.
He wonders how putting people out of work helps the crippled economy. And he questions how cutting dentistry for the needy is a solution, since teeth can make or break an employment interview. “Someone who is being interviewed for a job, and that employer sees bad teeth, that turns people off,” Sanders said. “Right away people make assumptions about you that often aren’t true.”
Good dental care encourages self confidence and that’s integral to success in employment.
“There’s always a story I tell about a patient we had who worked in a stockroom for years, his teeth were so bad,” Sanders aid. “But we fixed him up with a pair of dentures and now he’s a salesman working in the front with customers.”
For information on registering for future clinics call the school at 774-2400. The next free children’s clinic is May 23. The free clinics are designed for people who do not qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured.