OCEAN CITY — Worcester County’s first public dental clinic is expected to start seeing patients in March, bringing much-needed oral health to local low-income children.
And in a county recognized by Maryland Office of Oral Health as having one of the highest rates of tooth decay in the state, the almost $800,000 project may be long overdue.
The Worcester County Health Department is finalizing plans to renovate the old Berlin senior center for the state-funded clinic that will provide dental services to children on Medicaid and support preventative measures in the community. Currently, of the 22 dentists in the county, only one will see low-income patients.
However, while the clinic is necessary for the 14.8 percent of county children who did not have access to a dentist as recently as 2004, many think there are other preventative measures governments could be doing. The Ocean City/Assateague Democratic Club voted Wednesday night to lobby local officials to fluoridate the public water systems.
According to county Health Officer Debbie Goeller, Worcester has the lowest percentage of people on fluoridated water systems in the state.
“It’s a political issue,” Goeller said. “Until enough people say we want it, we won’t get it.”
While putting fluoride in public water has been proven to reduce dental problems in children, there are several issues facing the initiative in Worcester County. To begin with, many homes, businesses and even schools are served by wells, leaving it up to the owners to do something about it.
As for the public water systems, Goeller said, the seasonal nature of the county, concerns about cost and objection to any additives have created local resistance.
The water in Ocean Pines, for example, has never been fluoridated, because the creators of the originally seasonal community didn’t see the need.