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County works to bridge healthcare gap with dental screening fair

For the over 40,000 Howard County residents enrolled in Medicaid, gaining access to dental care can prove a challenge. In Maryland, the insurance program only covers dental procedures for adults in emergency cases, leaving many residents without care.

The county's Office on Aging and Independence under the office of Community Resources and Services is working to fill that gap. The department will host its first dental screening fair on Saturday at the North Laurel Community Center, offering free dental screenings to the first 100 eligible attendees.

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Howard Community College dental hygiene students will provide the screenings to low-income adults who qualify. Fifty of those screened will be guaranteed service at the Community Resources and Service's Oct. 7 dental event.

Representatives from Medicaid, Medicare and state and federal veterans affairs departments will offer benefits counseling to attendees, and an ombudsman from the Maryland Attorney General's Office will provide counseling for insurance, copays and deductibles. Representatives from Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center will offer behavioral and mental health counseling and the Action Council of Howard County and the Columbia Association will be present to offer information as well.

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There will be three seminars throughout the day on oral health: "Learning about your oral health as you age with dentures," "Consuming soft foods with dignity" and "Tobacco risk to oral health."

Peggy Hoffman, the division manager for the Office on Aging and Independence, said the county decided to hold the fair after seeing a significant need for dental care in the county, particularly among older, low-income residents. Hoffman said 40 percent of the Vivian L. Reid Community Fund, a local fund meant to help low-income older adults in the county, goes towards financing residents' dental care.

Miriam Bennett, a human services specialist in the Office on Aging and Independence, said officials are especially trying to connect with residents who wouldn't otherwise access care, such as parents and caregivers, who she said often opt to put their children's medical and dental needs before their own.

"We as a county have identified that this is a pretty serious need. Your teeth impact not just your ability to eat and have good quality of life, but your ability to work, to function," Bennett said. "So our goal with this screening event is not only to help people get connected with dental resources, but to look at the person as a whole."

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Reach Kate Magill at kmagill@baltsun.com.

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