Dentist Doug Cross believes that innovation and education improve outcomes for patients at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like EXCELth, where he has served as dental director for the last seven years.
“We need to be here,” said Dr. Cross of FQHCs. “We can treat dental issues at an affordable rate before they become a trip to the emergency room.”
Dr. Cross has recently led the charge to allow for teledentistry in the state, noting that Louisiana is “ahead of the pack” when it comes to accessing care this way.
Using teledentistry, hygienists in FQHCs that do not have dentists will be able to see patients and have a dentist weigh in virtually. Hygienists would also be able to go into schools and implement Well-Ahead’s Louisiana Seals Smiles program, where eligible children between six and 12 years of age are given dental sealants to protect their teeth against decay.
“Teledentistry would provide continuity of care for patients in rural Louisiana who otherwise may not be able to see a dentist,” explained Dr. Cross.
Lead hygienist Celeste Terry, who has worked with Dr. Cross throughout his 38-year career, partnered with Well-Ahead Louisiana’s Louisiana Seals Smiles program to provide dental sealants at two schools in the New Orleans area last year. They performed exams, cleanings and x-rays on the children, as well as applying a fluoride varnish and sealants. Approximately 50 students were able to receive the dental sealants.
Both Cross and Terry agree that outreach opportunities like Louisiana Seals Smiles not only help children but also provide an opportunity to educate school nurses and parents about the importance of good oral health.
“If a child did not have a dentist, we were able to connect the family and find them a dental home,” said Terry.
Dr. Cross noted that it is also good exposure for EXCELth, as most residents do not know about their clinics or the services offered.
While Dr. Cross believes that the impacts of COVID-19 will increase the costs of dental services and increase the number of residents seeking care from FQHCs like EXCELth, he also believes that prevention plays an important role in better oral health for Louisiana residents.
“The more we do upstream,” he noted, “the less problems we’ll have downstream.”