NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - There are critics of Medicaid dentistry. There are reports of some doctors luring parents with illegal incentives to take their kids to the dentist.
Then there are those dentists who have dropped Medicaid patients altogether because of lower reimbursements and government red tape.
A Nacogdoches pediatric dentist does not fit into either category. Her service to the poor is all about fulfilling a personal promise.
As young patients watch blaring cartoons displayed from TV's hanging from the ceiling, Dr. Jennifer Criss focuses on the kind of stuff dentists do.
Criss sees around 50 patients a day. Payment comes from private insurance and cash shelled out by parents. Slower, less adequate reimbursement comes for Medicaid patients, a population she's committed to serving.
"And I feel like personally if I'm not seeing those kids then I'm doing a disservice to my profession," Criss said.
Criss backed up her vow with researchers' medical findings.
"They say 80 percent of the cavities are in 20 percent of the kids," Criss said. "And that 20 percent of the kids are the Medicaid population. It's the underserved."
Criss is up for the challenge. So is her office staff. Half their work week is spent processing lengthy Medicaid claims.
"They need now more details, narratives, X-rays, everything with each case that we do," said Robin Smith, a financial coordinator.
Ninety percent of Nacogdoches Head Start students are served by Medicaid. The agency often refers families to Criss and other dentists in its five-county region. A health specialist explained why the care benefits more than just the children.
"If we have healthy kids there's less school they'll be missing and so they'll get the education they need to so they can become our future leaders," said Maria Mercado, the health specialist at Head Start.
Criss' son supports mom's Stephen F. Austin State University and his dad's Sam Houston State University
The pediatric dentist would like to see similar equal treatment for children.
"You know, kids are kids, whether that kid is on Medicare or that kid is not," Criss said. "And they deserve the same kind of care as any other patient."
Over three million Texans are currently served by Medicaid. Criss says the demand is so large that it's impossible for her to serve all who call. Head Start reports so far it hasn't had difficulty finding dentists to serve students.