A visit to the dentist can be challenging for any kid. This is especially true when they are experiencing other health challenges that affect their care. The pediatric dentists and dental residents at Children’s Wisconsin have the skills and training to meet that challenge and make a difference in the lives and health of children. Whether the child is healthy or medically complex, the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Center is equipped to manage all of their oral health needs.
While the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Center is based in Milwaukee, patients and parents across the state have come to rely on us, with reach extending into 57 Wisconsin counties. As a statewide resource, the Dental Center is also proud to serve as Wisconsin’s only pediatric dental residency program, training the next generation of pediatric dentists. The two-year pediatric dentistry residency program accepts four residents per year, providing scientific study and clinical experience in areas such as advanced diagnostic and surgical procedures, restorative care, craniofacial orthodontics, child psychology and clinical management and care for patients with special needs. Each resident is scheduled with the same patients, allowing them to build relationships with patients and their families.
Former Children’s Wisconsin residents have taken their training well beyond Milwaukee to serve patients in Appleton, Chippewa Falls, Racine and other locations throughout the state.
By fulfilling its goals to serve the unique oral health care needs of kids — especially those most vulnerable and those who have limited access to care while training the next generation of pediatric dentists — the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Center creates a ripple effect that extends care to just about every corner of the state.
Although every kid has unique health needs, one thing remains true for all: the fewer procedures they have to go through, the better.
George, a 7-year-old living with his family in Stevens Point, was born with Pierre Robin Sequence. This rare condition causes oral health challenges such as a cleft palate and an underdeveloped jaw structure that makes it hard for him to eat and talk.
Patients like George require unique expertise. Between his health challenges and his family’s insurance through Medicaid, they could not find a dental provider in Central Wisconsin who offered the care he needed. They turned to the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Center, where dentists with specialized skills were able to perform surgery to cap several of George’s teeth and complete fillings for him. With his oral health needs taken care of, George now has the freedom to enjoy music, explore his active imagination and spread joy.
The Children’s Wisconsin Dental Center is one of only a few clinics in the state of Wisconsin with a team of providers who are skilled in caring for pediatric patients like George who have special health care needs and disabilities. It is also one of relatively few pediatric dental practices in Wisconsin that primarily serves kids covered by Medicaid. In fact, with more than 28,000 visits last year across four locations, Children’s Wisconsin is one of the state’s largest pediatric dental care providers.
As part of the Children’s Wisconsin network, and in collaboration with other specialists in the system, Children’s Wisconsin dentists can schedule appointments the same day a child may have other procedures planned.
Addie, an 11-year-old from Little Chute, was born with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. To make dental procedures easier for Addie and her family, Children’s Wisconsin dentists schedule appointments at the same time she has other procedures performed under anesthesia, such as getting ear tubes. By consolidating procedures, her Children’s Wisconsin team provides the best and safest care and Addie has more time to watch Mickey Mouse, sing and play on the swings.
A similar approach has helped Gabriel, a 16-year-old from Juneau who was born with Down syndrome and has autism. Sensory issues can make dentist visits upsetting for him, because of the many sounds and smells found in any dental office. To make his visit easier, Gabriel receives sedation medication so Children’s Wisconsin dentists can provide the highest level of oral health care while keeping Gabriel safe and comfortable. During those visits, other Children’s Wisconsin providers are able to perform other necessary procedures such as cleaning his ears, performing a hearing test and an endoscopy. By getting many potentially upsetting procedures out of the way all at once, Gabriel has more time to do things he loves, like listening to music, swinging and watching his dad in the workshop.
For parents and other caregivers, consolidating procedures means less time away from work, fewer hassles arranging care for siblings and, ultimately, more time at home. For Addie and Gabriel, sedation and general anesthesia are excellent options that are used to supplement the care they receive in the Dental Center. The Children’s Wisconsin dental team is expertly trained to provide comprehensive oral health care to meet the needs of any child. With an emphasis on a low sensory environment and techniques grounded in desensitization, patterning and safety, kids who are differently abled receive the best care.
For kids whose families are covered by Medicaid, access to dental care can be a significant challenge.
Although more than 1 million Wisconsin residents receive dental coverage through Medicaid, Wisconsin is one of the lowest-ranking states in the nation in terms of access to dental care for kids covered by Medicaid. Each year in Wisconsin, more than 80,000 kids under age 5 who are covered by Medicaid visit a physician but don’t visit a dentist.
Dental disease is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood and one of the top reasons why kids miss school, yet it is often entirely preventable with good oral health care and regular visits to the dentist. Untreated cavities impact a child’s ability to eat, speak, sleep, socialize and learn, and often result in costly and preventable emergency room visits.
Kids in families with low incomes and those kids with special needs and disabilities are twice as likely to have untreated cavities. The impact of poor oral health in childhood has serious consequences that carry over into adulthood, often resulting in other chronic and costly health conditions.
More than 90 percent of patients who receive dental care at Children’s Wisconsin are covered through Medicaid, and 35 percent are kids (or, in some cases, adults) with disabilities.
The impact of the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Center, and the populations they serve, is getting noticed throughout the industry. In June 2022, Children’s Wisconsin announced a $1 million commitment from Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation to support the expansion of its Dental Center, which will increase access to oral health care for some of the state’s most vulnerable. But the need for even more resources is great. There are 4,000 patients from around the state waiting for appointments. Children's Wisconsin continues to explore public and private partnership opportunities to help more kids in Wisconsin get access to the dental care they need.