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So Many Reasons to Smile

Well-care, dentistry, and concern for the whole child

At 16, Maria was overweight, a common problem among patients at the Turner House Children’s Clinic in Kansas City, Kansas. In fact, 24.6 percent of Turner House’s young patients are diagnosed as obese or overweight. After joining the clinic’s impressive weight management program, Maria began to lose pounds, until one month when she showed up 11 pounds heavier. What was wrong?

Turner’s staff quickly realized that family problems were mounting all around Maria. Her single, impoverished mother was caring for Maria’s two developmentally disabled sisters. Exacerbating the situation, Maria’s mother no longer had guardianship over the 19-year-old, who had started experiencing seizures. Life was precarious. Maria was stressed.

With effective casework, Maria’s mother got the legal assistance she needed to get guardianship, and Maria’s sister got the medication she needed through a hospital. Meanwhile, Maria met with a behavioral therapist and started losing weight again. “It’s easy to say that those levels of coordination don’t often happen in private practice,” notes Dr. William Pankey, Turner House’s medical director. Every year, Turner House brings this kind of attention to almost 6,000 underserved children, he says. “We are a small clinic, but it works.”

Alongside obesity, staff see a high rate of dental caries, which put children at risk for infections, pain, heart disease in later life, and a decreased quality of life in a culture that values beaming white smiles. Pankey recalls a young African refugee who’d been kicked in the mouth playing soccer prior to arriving in the United States. One of his upper front teeth was just “waving” in his mouth, and naturally, he did his best to keep it hidden. But when he received his prosthetic replacement, he showed everyone in the clinic, smiling endlessly. Turner House is the only safety net clinic in the area that offers dental care alongside medical and behavioral healthcare.

This 2017 grant: $50,000