BERLIN — With a two-year anniversary approaching next month, the Worcester County Dental Clinic in Berlin is planning an advertising campaign to increase awareness of the services offered.
“I still feel like the community doesn’t know we’re here yet,” said Clinic Director Krista Hill. “Not everybody knows we’re here.”
Located on William Street, the clinic serves youth under the age of 21 as well as pregnant women. This is a significant expansion on the services available when the facility first opened in 2011.
“When we first started, the grant was originally written for children under 18,” said Hill. “We have since expanded to be children under 21. So we’ve increased that upper limit and also included are pregnant women.”
The clinic covers all basic dentistry including cleanings and trauma work and serves clients who are uninsured, underinsured or part of Maryland’s Medicaid program. For those who aren’t insured, there is a sliding scale of payment meant to keep the clinic affordable.
Hill reported a majority of the current patients fall into the 6- to 12-year-old age range, meaning the clinic has the opportunity to teach better habits and raise children’s “dental IQ” early, according to Hill.
“We want people to understand that establishing dental habits for their kids is important and needs to be ongoing and not just emergency care,” she said. “If they can take a preventive approach and we can educate the kids as they’re growing up, then hopefully they won’t have problems as adults.”
The majority of dental problems, Hill added, are preventable, with the obvious exception of any accident or trauma. By building good dental hygiene and making regular trips to see a dentist instead of only as needed, Hill noted that things like cavities and tooth decay in Worcester youth would fall significantly.
In an attempt to promote that message, members of the Worcester County Health Department have developed partnerships in the community, including with the Board of Education, to get kids started on the right path early.
“We continue to do outreach in the schools in combination with some other programs on the shore,” said Hill.
As for promoting the clinic, billboards at the southern and northern ends of the county, radio advertisements and possibly a bus ad in Ocean City are all being considered, though details haven’t been finalized, according to Hill.
Even with the perceived lack of awareness in the community, the clinic does see a steady flow of patients. Last fiscal year there were roughly 760 active patients and in the past six months since the current fiscal year began there are already 613. The facility has been growing in other ways as well.
Originally, there was only one doctor on staff available three days a week. Now there are two doctors who cover five days a week. Three new patient stations have also been added to the building. However, there’s still room to expand, according to Hill, not so much physically as with additional staff. There has to be a need in numbers of patients first.
Hill is doubtful that there will be any loosening of the 20-and-under age limit, with the exception of pregnant women, in the immediate future. However, she admitted that she would like to see the clinic expanded to provide senior dental care on top of their youth services.