Free dental service brightens smiles

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At least 190 children who were unable to get dental services anywhere else were served in the past few months thanks to a mobile dental van purchased for the Miles For Smiles program.

The van was equipped in Denver and sent out on its first mission in August. Moffat County was the first stop in a pilot program geared to offer dental care to uninsured children who fall between the cracks of public assistance and private insurance.

"Craig and Northwest Colorado were really the pilot areas for this program and the results were really good," said Don Cannalte, public relations officer for Kids In Need of Dentistry (KIND) which coordinates the Miles for Smiles program.

According to Northwest Colorado Dental Coordinator Betty Baldozier, the van offered services to 158 children from Moffat County, 16 from Rio Blanco County and 16 from Routt County. The value of services provided was $37,849, an average of $199 per child.

"We didn't get out and around the area," Cannalte said. "We kept the van in Craig, but we still had a fair number of children we saw from other counties."

According to Baldozier, one change program coordinators would like to make is to increase the number of communities the van visits. Baldozier plans to have the van stay in Meeker for a few days the during the next visit scheduled for January.

"The down side is that we realize how many children we didn't see who were eligible," said Nancy Schoyer, executive director of KIND.

According to Schoyer, there was only a 4 percent failure rate in Northwest Colorado. The failure rate measures the amount of people who make appointments and don't show up without calling to cancel their appointment. In Denver, she said, the failure rate is close to 20 percent.

Officials estimate up to 1,000 children in Moffat County are either uninsured or on Medicaid, but there is really no way to know for sure how many children would qualify for the program.

"The working poor isn't a group that really lends itself to being counted," Schoyer said.

Children who qualify for Medicaid do not qualify for the program because Medicaid is considered a form of insurance. Despite the figures available, program coordinators weren't sure how many would take advantage of the Miles for Smiles program.

"I don't think anyone really had any idea of how many people would use the program," Cannalte said. "There were really no goals established."

According to Baldozier, officials hoped eight to nine patients would be scheduled each day. There were actually an average of 11 patients per day.

"(The dentist) was definitely busy," she said. "We kept him hopping."

Another change Baldozier would like to make in the program is to have a volunteer dental hygienist on hand to assist the dentist. The van is equipped with two dental chairs. A hygienist would allow more patients to be seen, she said. Because no hygienist was on hand for this visit, the dentist ended up having to do much of work usually done by a hygienist. The result, Baldozier said, was many children didn't get overall treatment and have to be scheduled for follow-up appointments in January.

Baldozier said she is working with Colorado Northwestern Community College-Rangely campus dental program to find out if they would provide volunteer hygienists. She believes the chances are good because the van is equipped with state-of-the-art dental equipment that would give students a unique opportunity.

Schoyer would like to see the operational hours of the van expanded to some non-tradition hours, such as evenings and weekends, to accommodate working parents.

Because of the success of the van, people are already trying to schedule appointments for its next visit. Baldozier expects to be booked fast in January.

"Overall, I think everyone is pretty pleased," Cannalte said. "It was a learning curve for sure."

The van went from Craig to the Glenwood Springs and Rifle area and is now in southwest Colorado until mid-December when it will return to Denver for maintenance.

The van was purchased with the help of a grant from Colorado Blue Cross Blue Shield. Officials with Blue Cross Blue Shield were interested in providing dental services for children going without them.

"The key," Cannalte said, "is to get to these children who don't have access to a dentist. The van is key to addressing this issue which is a real problem in Colorado. There are so many kids who just don't have access to dental care."

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