By Brett Milam
James A. Pierce, a Chicago native, has been offering pro-bono dentistry to underprivileged kids in the village of Amelia since 1993.
Through his practice, Amelia East Family Dentistry and with a staff of 12, Pierce believes in giving back to the community.
The effort grew out of the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile program, which aims to give children free oral health services. More than 10,000 dentists nationwide participate in the program, along with 30,000 other dental team members, according to the ADA.
February is considered National Children’s Dental Health month, as sponsored by the ADA, but it’s also the time for the last 25 years that Pierce has performed these free services.
On Feb. 2, he said he will see anywhere between 40 and 60 kids and offer them services. Sometimes that entails finding a cavity, scheduling an appointment at another available date and doing the procedure then. If the situation involves more extensive care, he will refer them to Children’s Hospital.
“It seemed like a natural fit to try to help out and get a chance to see some kids that maybe don’t get seen all the time,” Pierce said. “So it was kind of a win-win situation, I felt.”
Pierce also partners with Head Start, which started in the mid-1990s. Head Start is part of Child Focus, Inc. in Clermont County; they act as sort of a conduit between the underprivileged kids in the community and Pierce.
“It’s really worked out well because that was my most difficult thing is, ‘How do you get the word out to the right population of kids that aren’t getting seen or that they are having trouble getting seen?'” Pierce said.
One of the biggest issues for kids, he said, is the wait to be seen by a dentist. Head Start helps to coordinate a lot of kids at one time. And ultimately, the ADA program eliminates a lot of red tape, which is beneficial to parents, Pierce said.
“It’s been a really great relationship because it gives the parents the opportunity to be able to get the exams that they need for the kids,” Pierce said. “And it gives Head Start the one-shop stop. It’s worked out well.”
Compared to when he first started doing this when kids had rampant decay and really need a lot of help, Pierce said it’s been rewarding in the time since then because education has helped change that outlook.
For instance, he said when he first started, parents were giving kids the bottle in the crib and so you’d see the big cavities at the front of the mouth.
Really, it’s a matter of working with the parents, he said, and community-wise, you can see the improvement.
“We’ll talk a lot about oral hygiene and what the parents can do at home to really prevent anything going forward and then we’ll treat what we need to treat here to get them to a good stable place, so the parents can work on the things that we talked about,” Pierce said. “We really want to have the parents in.”
At this point, though, the parents have heard the oral hygiene spiel numerous times, so it helps. It’s that educational repetition that helps, Pierce said, things like helping the child to brush, even though they want to do it themselves, goes a long way, he added.
“If they’re more thorough, we see less cavities,” he said.
After all these years, Pierce has learned that a good, well-educated staff has been crucial. In 1993, he had a staff of just four and now it’s 12.
“It makes life a lot easier,” he said. “We have an excellent staff that really does a great job as far as the education goes. They kind of understand how what we say and what we do, especially with the parents, makes a big difference and so having that staff, I think, is really what makes this all possible.”
Because of that staff, Pierce said he’s gone from being able to treat around 12 kids in 1993 to the 40 to 60 kids nowadays.
Services offered include exams, x-rays and cleanings on the first visit. If further treatment is needed, like fixing a cavity, he’ll get them scheduled for another treatment. Nothing is billed out and it’s all part of the ADA program.
“If I find a cavity in their mouth, I fix that cavity. Just period, that’s just the way it is,” Pierce said. “I just try to get them to a good, stable place where I know they’re cavity-free.”
The last 25 years has also allowed Pierce to get more comfortable with pediatric dentistry.
“Working on the kids, there’s a great satisfaction there obviously,” he said. “It’s just one of those things when you’re blessed to be in a community and treat that community, you want to do what you can for that community.”
He added, “We’re just trying to give back and find ways to further this along.”
For more information on Amelia East Family Dentistry, visit their website: http://www.jamespiercedds.com/index.html.