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2011 Health Care Champion Honoree: Dr. Kecia Leary

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Dr. Kecia Leary likes to joke that she walked in off the street and landed her job as a pediatric dentist and pediatric dental director at Jordan Valley Community Health Center.

A southeast Iowa native, Leary and her husband moved to Springfield to live closer to his parents who retired in Lake of the Ozarks.

Leary stopped in to learn more about the federally qualified health center. “I explained my background, and they said, ‘You might be a unique fit here,’” says Leary, who earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree and a Master of Science in Dental Public Health at University of Iowa.

As an FQHC, Jordan Valley Community Health Center’s patient base comprises primarily those who are on Medicare or Medicaid, or who are under- or uninsured who might have a hard time accessing care. Leary says her patients are typically very young children and people with special needs.

Beyond hands-on patient care, Leary works to spread the message that dental care is important. Tooth decay and cavities are five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever, she says.

“The teeth in the mouth are the window into the rest of the body,” she says. “The mouth is connected to how kids can eat. Things in your mouth are in the blood stream, so (dental issues) can be connected to your heart (or) your brain.”

As a public health dentist, Leary isn’t just concerned about her patients, because she considers all Missouri children – and especially those in southwest Missouri – to be her patient base. She takes a big-picture approach, working with physicians and other providers to make sure all parents know dental care needs to start early.

“I try to work with physicians on doing oral screenings, and teaching them how they can answer dental related questions and get their patients into the dentist,” she says. “I can also serve as an advocate to legislators or to different groups within the community (to) explain why oral health is important.”

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a child is seen by a dentist by the age of 1 year, or within six months of the eruption of the first tooth.

“I do get to see that age quite a bit, and I love it. … I get to grow with the family (and) provide education early on about how to prevent cavities from forming,” she says. “When I’m sad is when I see a child at age 3, 4 or 5 even, and they’ve already got a mouth full of cavities, and we just have to fix holes in the teeth. We want to prevent them from happening.”

Click here for full coverage of the 2011 Salute to Health Care.
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