A local nonprofit has expanded its offerings to include dental care for an entirely new client base: children.
The faith-based Church Health Services in Beaver Dam, 115 N. Center St., began accepting children for comprehensive dental care alongside adults this year. Services are available to households with Medicaid or households without insurance and an income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
For a family of four, 200 percent of the federal poverty line is an annual income of about $50,000, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“There’s an overarching need for dental in our communities, period, but for children it’s really at a crisis point,” said Thea O’Connor, the executive director of CHS, which also provides medical and mental health care.
The nonprofit can provide patients with cleanings, treatment plans, X-rays, extractions, fillings, root canals, bridges, space maintainers, cancer screenings and dentures.
It cannot conduct oral surgery, and will refer patients elsewhere upon diagnosing an issue requiring more complicated treatment. That usually means going outside the county. It also cannot fit braces or implants, unless an implant is deemed medically necessary for an adult.
Dental options for lower-income families with Medicaid or no insurance are virtually non-existent in Dodge County and other nearby areas.
“There are no providers,” O’Connor said. “Looking at populations that were slipping through the cracks, kids were slipping through the cracks.”
Many working parents can’t afford to take time off and drive their children at least 45 minutes one-way to Madison or Milwaukee for dental appointments, so their children end up without the care they need. CHS opens up a new opportunity for local families closer to home.
Services are not limited to Dodge County residents. Anybody in Wisconsin who is otherwise eligible can reach out to CHS for treatment, and the nonprofit can also help families find services near them.
“We really try to not leave somebody hanging,” said Bev Beal-Loeck, the community coordinator.
The first time a child comes in for a visit, they will have a “happy time” meeting with a dentist, where they will play games in a comfortable environment while parents watch and the dentist examines the child’s teeth.
Then, the child will have a cleaning where the dentist can formally draw up a treatment plan for any further issues. If a child is ever too stressed or afraid, they can come back another day.
“It’s not just about getting the work done, but every time they come in, setting up a positive experience so they’re more confident and they’re more comfortable,” O’Connor said.
CHS started providing dental services for adults a few years ago after receiving a significant donation of equipment from a clinic in Wautoma. Relying on volunteer dentists, times were more limited and there was a wait list of hundreds of people stretching into two years.
Now, there is no wait list. CHS hired Ken Antonoff full-time. With Antonoff working alongside Ron Verhulst, a part-time dentist, CHS’ dental hours went from around eight hours a week to upwards of 56.
Snagging Antonoff was crucial toward expanding the dental clinic. He graduated from New York University in New York City, but left dentistry to study the Bible and some Semitic languages in Israel and do computer and web design work.
He was in Trump Tower on 9/11, the same day he decided to go back into dentistry and move out to the Midwest with his college sweetheart. He bounced to Illinois, the Navajo Nation, and eventually Wisconsin. Antonoff now commutes from the Milwauke area every day to care for Beaver Dam residents.
Allowing for children’s care also opens up oral health education for entire families, such as checking if babies are left sleeping with bottles of juice, which can cause early tooth decay.
“This year, moving forward, our focus is kids,” O’Connor said.