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New Jersey dentist builds legacy in helping uninsured

November 20, 2017

By Kimber Solana

Photo of Dr. Nicole McGrath and young patient
Dental home: Dr. Nicole McGrath poses for a photo with her 5-year-old patient, Samaya Campbell-Simmons at the KinderSmile Foundation's Community Oral Health Center, a dental home to underserved and uninsured children in Bloomfield, N.J. The center opened in 2016, about nine years after Dr. McGrath created the KinderSmile Foundation nonprofit in 2007. Photo provided by KinderSmile Foundation
Editor's note: This is the third in a series featuring graduates of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership and how these dental leaders continue to affect their communities.

Bloomfield, N.J. — It was during her day off when Dr. Nicole McGrath was called in to her office for an emergency. When she arrived, a 5-year-old girl leapt into her arms.

"I could not identify her at the moment because she was not my regular patient," said Dr. McGrath, who quickly realized she met the patient a few months ago at a local Head Start program in Montclair, New Jersey.

"I provided an oral educational workshop for her and her classmates months ago and sent them off with brochures, toothbrushes and my office information," she said.

The patient had large swelling in the lower right side of her mouth, which turned out to be an abscess. The girl had the abscess for three months but her mother couldn't find a dentist to provide emergency care for her, Dr. McGrath said. The girl's mother found Dr. McGrath and called her office.

"It was so beguiling to know that they could not seek appropriate care," she said. "She had Medicaid. I provided the recommended care and told her guardian, 'Don't worry about money. Just bring her back after the antibiotic regimen is completed so we can extract the tooth.'"

That night in 2007, Dr. McGrath said, KinderSmile Foundation was born.

Ten years later, the nonprofit, which is dedicated to ensure uninsured and underserved children in New Jersey receive needed dental care, has seen more than 13,000 children, donating more than $2.6 million in dental services. Along with children, the nonprofit also provides care and training to pregnant women and new mothers. And in 2016, KinderSmile Foundation opened the doors of its Community Oral Health Center, a dental home for children in four New Jersey counties.

However, Dr. McGrath said, KinderSmile Foundation has found success and expanded its reach by utilizing a common feature throughout its programs: education.

Image of Diversity Series logo "We can't treat our way out of this problem," Dr. McGrath said. "We really focus on education, prevention and intervention. We found that increases in dental education results in decreases in dental disease."

Focusing on the mission

A graduate of the University of Maryland dental school, Dr. McGrath completed her residency program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, New Jersey.

In 2010, three years after founding KinderSmile Foundation, Dr. McGrath became one of 12 members of that year's class the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, a program designed to enhance the leadership skills of dentists who belong to racial, ethnic and/or gender backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in leadership roles within the profession and their communities.

As part of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, participants are tasked with developing and executing a personal leadership project that addresses an issue or challenge in his or her community, organization or the profession. Institute participants receive help from ADA staff and work with leading educators from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

Dr. McGrath said she wanted to utilize what she learned from the Institute to expand and improve KinderSmile Foundation to help make sure uninsured and underserved children receive the dental care they need.

It was only six months after KinderSmile Foundation became a 501 (c)(3) when Dr. McGrath read the Washington Post story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy who died because bacteria from an abscess had spread to his brain.

The boy and his family lacked insurance and that dentists who accept Medicaid were difficult to find, according to the article.

"A routine, $80 extraction might have saved him," The Washington Post article said.

The tragic story, Dr. McGrath said, hardened her resolve to ensure KinderSmile Foundation becomes a success.

One of the main things Dr. McGrath said she learned from the Institute was to be focused on your mission and what you're trying to accomplish.

"The Institute really helped catapult, revitalize and confirm my passion for building KinderSmile Foundation to where we are now today," she said. "Today, we have so many stories of saving lives," she said.

Pillar in the community

In 10 years, Dr. McGrath said, KinderSmile Foundation has become a pillar in addressing oral care disparity in New Jersey.

KinderSmile Foundation accomplishes its goals through three main programs.

The Community Service Learning Program offers mentorship and guidance to high school/college students who learn leadership skills through internships at the foundation. Participants help teach children oral hygiene at the KinderSmile Community Oral Health Center and volunteer at local health fairs and community events, including participating in the ADA's Give Kids A Smile day.

The KinderSmile Perinatal Health & Wellness Program provides pregnant women and new mothers dental examinations and oral health education, which includes learning about the impact of maternal health on a developing fetus, effects of early childhood caries and how to use a baby bottle and sippy cup. New mothers who complete the program's oral health curriculum earn one year of free dental care at the KinderSmile Community Oral Health Center.

The third aspect of KinderSmile Foundation is its Oral Health Program, which provides preventative and diagnostic dental services and oral health education to children and families. These services include oral exams and topical fluoride treatment during on-site visits to early childhood programs; pre- and postnatal women in the New Jersey communities of Montclair, Orange and East Orange; three day care centers in Montclair; and several elementary schools — in areas where there are no community water fluoridation, according to Dr. McGrath.

And last year, the nonprofit opened the doors of its KinderSmile Community Oral Health Center.

"The biggest change or growth [in 10 years] is the opening of our well-needed dental home," Dr. McGrath said. "We now have a permanent dental home to provide quality comprehensive treatment to the uninsured and underserved."

To learn more about the KinderSmile Foundation, visit kindersmile.org. For more information on the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, which now admits dentists each year with all expenses covered by the ADA, Henry Schein Cares and Crest + Oral-B, visit ADA.org/diversityinstitute.