Change give more people acces to dental care

Roving van now accepting patients covered by Medicaid

The Miles For Smiles Dental Van will treat more children than it ever has on its next stop in Moffat County, increasing the length of time it stays in the area and adding availability to Medicaid children as well.

It's a monumental change in policy by Kids In Need of Dentistry (KIND), a non-profit organization that operates the traveling office in Colorado.

"If Medicaid children in Routt and Moffat counties have teeth, they better be on that van when it comes here," said Debi Garoutte, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.

Kids In Need of Dentistry announced to Garoutte last week that the dental van will come to Moffat and Routt counties in January and stay for 22 weeks, 14 weeks longer than normal. Also, it will treat children on Medicaid as well as those with no insurance.

Garoutte said she has been "working feverishly" to find dental care for children on Medicaid. The dental coalition even investigated the feasibility of building an indigent dental clinic in Craig with the help of a $25,000 planning grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation.

Garoutte's ambition has been driven by the horror stories of chronic, untreated tooth decay she hears regularly from indigent Moffat County families. Dental decay is a leading cause of chronic illness among children but is 100 percent preventable, Garoutte said. Access to routine checkups and cleanings could prevent many emergency situations.

Garoutte usually sees dental emergencies at their worst and then has to scramble to arrange treatment, many times in neighboring counties with dentists who do accept Medicaid. Often the infections caused by neglected oral hygiene are quite severe, including life-threatening infections that have spread into the jaw.

"If everybody could see the terrible stuff I see, they would understand how I feel about this," Garoutte said.

Previously, the dental van took care of children whose families made too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy insurance. As a result, about 1,000 children in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties were stranded with no local access to dental care.

No Craig dentists take new Medicaid patients because of the low reimbursement rates.

The expanded service is something Garoutte has worked toward for years.

"She made me a promise two years ago" that she would find a solution to the problem of dental care for indigent children, said Carol Sharp, who works for the Visiting Nurse Association as a case manager for Medicaid families.

Sharp said she believes access to dental treatment for children covered by Medicaid is "the number one problem in our area."

When Medicaid officials talk to Sharp about what are the urgent healthcare needs in northwest Colorado, she tells them, "Dental."

And after meetings, when the officials are on their way out of her office, she again says, "Did I mention dental is a big problem?"

Sharp mentioned the new service to her clients, and she said thus far 100 percent of them have expressed interest in sending their children to the dental van. It requires additional paperwork and a screening process, but the improved access to dental treatment has many families anxious to take part.

"I have a waiting list of 25 to 30 families just in the last week," Sharp said. "It's still unbelievable to me. We've been fighting so long to get something for Medicaid children."

"Carol (Sharp) and I are going to be joined at the hip making sure every Medicaid child has an application and is aware of the resources," Garoutte said.

Despite the recent good news, the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition still needs volunteers to help with a variety of tasks. Garoutte said people sometimes think only monetary resources are needed. But individuals don't have to give money, and need not be dental professionals or community leaders to benefit non-profits, such as the dental coalition.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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