(Photo | Courtesy of Kemple Clinic)
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, making it the ideal time to recognize Kemple Memorial Children’s Dental Clinic, the only local nonprofit that has been championing children’s oral health for 20 years.
Kemple Clinic was founded in 1998 by retired Bend dentist, Dr. H.M. Kemple, but his passion for helping children access quality oral care spanned his entire career. In the early 1960s, Dr. Kemple joined forces with local volunteer dentists, Bend Jaycees, St. Charles Hospital and school superintendent R.E. Jewel to open a clinic at Reid School that would provide dental work for children in need. His focus on school children was intentional because he recognized that students with poor dental health had a harder time concentrating in class, which led to poor overall performance in school. Recent studies support his reasoning, and today untreated dental issues are one of the country’s most common, and yet most preventable, chronic childhood health problems. Left untreated, these issues can lead to absenteeism and, unfortunately, Central Oregon has one of the highest instances in the country; nearly 30 percent absenteeism in some schools. There are also economic ramifications attached to poor oral health. Treating emergent dental issues is significantly more expensive than delivering preventative care. And, chronic absenteeism in school results in lower graduation rates, which can hinder one’s ability to secure stable employment.
Kemple Clinic, which directly supports Central Oregon’s Health Improvement Goal of Keep Children Cavity Free, has a mission to eliminate pediatric oral disease and ensure all local children and young adults, ages three to 25, get the dental care they need. Dr. Kemple’s legacy is alive and well in schools and community venues across Deschutes and Crook counties in the form of Screen and Seal events. Students learn positive oral hygiene habits, each receives a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss, and volunteer dental professionals provide individual no-cost dental screenings. With parental consent, students also receive fluoride treatment and, when needed, dental sealants to protect permanent teeth from decay. Dr. Elise Burris is co-owner of Bend-based Pediatric Dental Associates and one of more than 75 local dentists who volunteer their time on behalf of Kemple Clinic. According to Burris, “Kemple’s Screen and Seal programs provide crucial preventative care, reaching thousands of kids every year. Additionally, Kemple Clinic provides support and guidance for families that need access to care. Kemple’s mission to serve all children and young adults regardless of insurability has profound benefit for our community.”
Serving uninsured children and young adults is the cornerstone of Kemple Clinic’s work, but the organization is expanding its mission and addressing the needs of an emerging population; the underserved. As Suzanne Browning, Kemple’s executive director, explains, “The high demand of urgent and/or emergent dental issues from OHP patients takes priority of care, and that has reduced the availability of regular, preventative dental appointments with OHP providers, who are already in short supply. A new partnership with Advantage Dental, Capitol Dental, MODA and Willamette Dental will allow us to serve more OHP patients’ regular preventative care needs. We are now providing preventative and diagnostic dental services to OHP children in our clinic, coordinating with their dental providers for urgent, emergent acute and restorative treatments.” Eligible patients are seen by appointment only at Kemple’s on-site clinic in Bend, where screenings, cleanings, x-rays, risk assessments and other preventative and diagnostic services are provided at no charge. Patients with emergent or complex needs are referred to Kemple’s network of providers for additional care, also at no cost. Ben Bryan, D.M.D. and Dental Director at Mosaic Medical, is a partner in this effort. He states, “Kemple Clinic has a legacy of providing vital oral healthcare to our community’s children and has adapted over time to meet the changing needs in Central Oregon’s pediatric community. They are a crucial piece to providing total healthcare to Central Oregon’s children.”
Kemple exists thanks to several foundations and local individual donations. By the numbers, in 2018 over 6,000 children received cost-free dental screenings in schools and other community venues, instilling a lifetime of healthy oral care habits. Nearly 500 patients received the preventative, diagnostic, acute or restorative care they needed to free them from unnecessary pain. These numbers represent more than $700,000 of in-kind care annually donated by Kemple’s volunteer network. But there is still work to be done, and Kemple Clinic enters its 21st year serving the community with all eyes on the future. Kemple’s staff works tirelessly to schedule Screen and Seal events, expand its volunteer and donor network, and ensure every child and young adult in Central Oregon has access to quality dental care, all so each can reach his or her full potential…just as Dr. Kemple envisioned.