Ocean Dental makes visits smooth sailing for families

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 Messenger photo by Dianne Garrett
Ocean Dental assistants Tenelle Jones and Sharon Smith, are shown in the "The Pirate" exam room at the Whitehall clinic.  Each room of the facility has an ocean theme, including "Nemo" and "Sponge Bob." On the ceilings are flat screen televisions so children can view cartoons during their appointment.  The team at Ocean Dental tries to make going to the dentist a relaxing, fun experience for their Medicaid patients up to the age of 20.

Who says that going to the dentist has to be scary and antiseptic?  

The staff at Ocean Dental, at 3646 East Main Street in Whitehall, provides a cheerful and friendly atmosphere that parallels the sea ambiance around them.

The facility opened its doors in mid-March, and has already seen 3,700 patients.  What began 10 years ago as a simple desire to meet the needs of kids unable to afford dental care has grown into a unique, thriving organization.  

Ocean Dental delivers high quality dental care for any insurance through Medicaid for patients up to age 20.

Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease and children whose families may qualify for Medicaid programs suffer twice as many cavities as their more affluent peers, and often leave dental needs untreated. This can lead to further health problems, and in some cases death from untreated infections.

Ocean Dental was founded to fight this growing health crisis.   

The ocean-themed concept began in Stillwater, Okla., and now has 12 locations, in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, and two in Cleveland.  

Each of the 11 examining rooms has a theme, such as "Sponge Bob," "Nemo" and a pirate room.  The rooms, along with the six- chair hygiene room, have flat screen televisions on the ceiling so children can watch cartoons during their appointments.  

Tropical artwork,  murals lining the hallways, and little stuffed fish dangle from the ceilings.  Upon entering the building visitors are greeted at a reception widow looking much like a tiki hut.  In the waiting room is an interactive play area.

Parents may accompany their children in the room at the initial visit, but most children do better when parents cannot be seen, according to office manager Bryn Rice.  So there is an observation area with a one-way window off the hygiene room for the parents.

The Whitehall location has 18 employees, including three dentists.  Ocean Dental believes the type of payment should never dictate the quality of care a patient receives.  To effectively meet the needs of Medicaid patients, they chose to only treat them.  

By focusing strictly on this under-served socioeconomic group, they are able to bypass other extensive financial, insurance management, case presentation and scheduling complications a regular dental practice has to consider.   

"We know exactly what is covered, so there is no pre-authorizations necessary.  This enables us to get the patient in for an appointment much quicker," said Rice.   

Rice visits other local dentists, Head Start Programs, Franklin County Jobs and Family Services and pediatricians, to make sure they are aware of their services.  They also take referrals from the mobile dentists who visit the school districts.  

"We try to make sure the patients receive positive adult interaction, and we talk to them about their futures.  We want them to get excited about their future," offered Rice.  

She shared a story of a little girl in Oklahoma who came for an appointment with her grandmother, who had recently gained custody of the child.  

The 4-year old would not let any of the adults touch her, and threw some serious tantrums.  They learned from the grandmother that the child’s drug-addicted mother had been selling her for prostitution.  

After they understood what they were dealing with, they knew how to interact with her.  One week later Joe Akin, who is the CEO, ran into the youngster and her grandmother at a store.  She was a happy child who was once again interacting with adults without fear.  

Rice concluded by saying that in some cases, the children have such a good time during their appointment, they don’t want to leave.

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