It’s easy for Comiller Brunson of Upper Marlboro to get her 6-year-old daughter, Jamesha, excited for the dentist when a play area is within reach.
What got even easier for Maryland families on Medicaid, such as Brunson’s, is access to clinics like District Heights’ Kool Smiles, which made it possible for her to get free dental care for Jamesha and daughter Briana, 13.
“Their love for kids, I can’t explain it,” Brunson said of the staff. “You have to see it for yourself.”
Brunson’s family is among the 600 people seen weekly for dental health care at Kool Smiles, a dental clinic that is part of the Deamonte Driver Dental Project and provides dental care for families on Medicaid.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) visited the office to tout the project named for Driver, the 12-year-old Largo boy who died in 2007 from an infection of an abscessed tooth during a lapse in his family’s Medicaid coverage.
Cardin said Driver’s death was a wake-up call to America that oral health care is important to overall health and success in school as classes for Prince George’s County public school students start Monday.
“There was no Kool Smiles facility for Deamonte Driver and Deamonte Driver’s mother to go to,” Cardin said. “That was four years ago.”
The Deamonte Driver Dental Project, created in 2008 through nonprofit Robert T. Freeman Dental Society Foundation, boasts a network of dentists and a mobile van funded through grants and private and public donations to provide dental care to underserved populations.
About 90 percent of the patients who come to Kool Smiles in District Heights are on Medicaid.
The District Heights site is the only Prince George’s County location. Clinic staff was not able to immediately confirm how many people have been served since its opening.
Kool Smiles regional dental director Dr. Priya Grewal hopes to expand because she said there is a need in the area. There are 10 locations overall spanning Baltimore city, Falls Church, Va., Washington, D.C., and Takoma Park.
A mobile Deamonte Driver Dental Project van has given dental check-ups to about 1,600 students since 2008 and has expanded its coverage to 20 of Prince George’s County’s 54 Title I schools. Title I schools have high populations of students who receive free and reduced-cost meals. Betty Thomas, the Deamonte Driver project manager, said their goal is to reach all 54 schools.
Belinda Carver-Taylor, a Deamonte Driver Dental Project co-founder, sees more serious cases from the mobile van in her Seat Pleasant dental practice. She is also one of the project’s network of 39 dentists according to its official website.
The Prince George’s County Health Department opened up a clinic in 2010 in its Cheverly office with five dental chairs and served about 1,500 children and adults in 2010, said Elana Belon-Butler, the county’s deputy health officer.
Deamonte’s mother, Elise Driver, assists Carver-Taylor in her Seat Pleasant office. Elise Driver decided not to attend Wednesday’s event because it would be too emotional, Carver-Taylor said.
“It’s just very hard with Deamonte’s name all over everything,” Carver-Taylor said. “At the same time she knows he didn’t die for nothing.”