Valley dentist offers free dental care for kids

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Some parents pass on taking their children to the dentist, waiting until there's a major health issue. That's why Scottsdale pediatric dentist Dr. Lee Weinstein offers free dental care. He’s among one of many dentists and groups jumping on the bandwagon of giving back to the community.

"It's a huge, huge issue,” explained Weinstein, owner of Dental Associates for Kids Only. “Kids are just not getting seen and I understand all that. So, the dental community, as well as the regular community, needs to give back. And there are all kinds of program that are out there now."

Weinstein sees the need first hand. He’s also the dental director for the state’s Medicaid program, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Among the reasons kids don't go to the dentist? No insurance. Many parents just can't afford it or they don't realize it's a necessity.

“We’ve had cavities before,” said Kristina Dawson. She brings her two daughters to the dentist regularly, but feels bad that others don’t have the insurance she does to pay for care.

"If those kids don't have access to the cleaning and check ups that they need, I think it affects their health overall," Weinstein said. "That mouth is a reflection on the rest of your body."

That's part of the message Dr. Lee, as his young patients call him, tries to get across. So, what happens in the free visit at Dental Associates for Kids Only? Kids get a full cleaning, fluoride treatment and X-rays. He also talks to parents and kids about dental health. Weinstein says it's all about educating everyone about our teeth.

Weinstein said about 30 percent of Arizona kids have never seen a dentist. About half of them have some kind of tooth decay by the time they're 4.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, 75 percent of parents don’t even know when a child's first visit to the dentist should be. The organization says kids should have a dental "home" by the time they are a year old.

Dr. Lee has made his office kid-friendly -- quirky decor, a game room, toys and a wall of toothpaste from around the world. He says making the environment fun for kids makes their visits more enjoyable.

Dr. Lee offers free dental care for children four times a year. Weinstein said he's seen 500 or 600 patients in the six years he's offered the free appointments.

"What goes around comes around," Weinstein said. "Let's get in, get seen, get taken care of. Let's get one problem off the plate and we can worry about other things later on. Let's take care of that tooth, that mouth."

Weinstein said there are other free and low-cost resources available.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," he said, suggesting people contact either of Arizona's two dental schools -- Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health at A.T. Still University and the College of Dental Medicine at Midwestern University. He said the Arizona Dental Association can point people in the right direction, as well.

Dr. Lee's next free dental care event happens in December.  Contact Dental Associates for Kids Only at 480-767-5600 for more information.