Our view: A toothy grin for the dental coalition

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We can't say enough about the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition's ability to overcome adversity -- especially because their perseverance has paid big dividends for the region.

On Wednesday, the coalition learned it had received a $450,000 grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation to establish and operate a dental clinic in Craig for low-income children throughout Northwest Colorado.

While that's obviously good news for the families who have to rely on a "safety net" clinic for dental care, it's also a reflection of the Yampa Valley's commitment to take care of its own.

"The community needs to claim ownership of this clinic," said Debi Harmon, the coalition's executive director. "It's because of the recovery from embezzlement and everybody donating money two years ago that got us where we are today. The community should be proud that we've continued to grow and they need to be proud that they played a role."

Harmon remembers school children donating lunch money to help the coalition raise money to pay off bills in the wake of an embezzlement scandal in 2002 that nearly caused the nonprofit organization to fold.

Since then, the coalition rebounded and expanded its services. Originally, it served uninsured children in Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. But Harmon and the board recognized that children who were covered for dental care under Medicaid were falling through the cracks. That's because there were no local dentists who accepted Medicaid patients. So those families were forced to travel to Colorado Springs or Glenwood Springs for dental care, if they could afford the trip at all.

The board arranged for a Denver nonprofit, Kids in Need of Dentistry, to bring its traveling Miles for Smiles Dental van to Northwest Colorado communities. The coalition also persuaded KIND to expand its eligibility guidelines to include Medicaid patients so they could be treated in the dental van.

Harmon struggled to get the word out about the dental van and worked with other agencies to schedule appointments in Moffat and surrounding counties. The van was booked solid with patients when KIND announced in April that it was pulling out of Craig and was unlikely to return.

Such a setback could have derailed the coalition's efforts, but it only hardened the group's resolve to find a permanent solution to Northwest Colorado's dental dilemma.

We also must recognize the Caring for Colorado Foundation, which has come up big three times for our community. First, the foundation gave the coalition a $25,000 planning grant to assess dental needs in Northwest Colorado. Then it provided $50,000 to keep the Moffat County Care Clinic operating.

And now it has awarded $450,000 during three years to get a permanent dental clinic

Harmon hopes by the time the grant expires, the dental clinic will have the "sustainability" to begin treating adults who can't afford dental care.

Dental decay is the most chronic disease among children, yet it is 100 percent preventable. Mounting research links the lack of dental care with myriad health problems, including strokes, heart disease, brain abscesses and poor digestion.

But the most pressing health issue is pain.

Nobody likes to see a child suffering and some have had to endure painful toothaches for weeks. Coalition board member Carol Sharp has seen a child with sores on the outside of his body because his dental decay was so severe.

Sharp thinks the clinic will alleviate more than pain. It should have a significant impact on everything from school absenteeism to children's self-esteem.

We're excited that people who need help the most will be getting it from a dynamic organization that has consistently demonstrated a commitment to treating people with decency and kindness.

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