A traveling dental office that recently changed its eligibility guidelines soon will arrive in the Yampa Valley and treat qualified patients for 10 percent of the cost of each procedure.
The Miles For Smiles Dental Van, sponsored by Kids In Need of Dentistry, will arrive in Steamboat Jan. 19.
It will begin treating patients in the tri-county area that covers Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties.
Historically, the van treated young patients whose families had "fallen between the cracks," which means the families made too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private health insurance, according to Debi Garoutte, the executive director of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.
This time around, the van will also treat Medicaid patients, and it will stay in the tri-county area for an unprecedented 22 weeks.
Some 1,276 children in the tri-county area, who previously had no access to local dental treatments, are now eligible to be seen at the van, Garoutte said.
The move to accept Medicaid children was essential to confront what Garoutte calls a dental crisis in Moffat county.
Officials at KIND responded to the need, and Garoutte is working to make sure every qualified child receives treatment while the van is in town.
No dentists in Craig accept Medicaid, and many children have missed routine dental treatments, such as cleanings, for years, Garoutte said.
As a result, Garoutte often sees patients at their worst, requiring emergency dental treatments.
Garoutte arranges appointments as far away as Colorado Springs -- or as close as Rifle, Glenwood or Grand Junction -- at offices accepting Medicaid.
Even then, there are "transportation barriers" that cause patients to miss appointments.
Families that can't afford dentistry often can't afford emergency trips to Medicaid clinics, Garoutte said.
The dental van will address those issues, bringing the dentists to the patients. It will treat emergency cases, but also provide routine dental maintenance -- a service Garoutte hopes can stamp out decay, and teach parents and children the need for oral hygiene.
"We want to focus on prevention instead of crisis-control," Garoutte said.
One child, in need of eight fillings and a root canal, already has been booked on the van.
Garoutte has been working closely with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association to find Medicaid patients and set them up with appointments on the van.
Social Services departments, Routt County Human Services and a public health nurse in Rangely also work with Garoutte to find patients, complete paperwork and schedule appointments.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org