Dental center to smile on kids in need

What started out as a dream for the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition nearly a decade ago got a fresh coat of paint Tuesday.

The Dental Coalition has been putting the finishing touches on a dental clinic set to open April 1. The clinic will be housed in the former UBET location, 485 Yampa Ave.

"It feels good to have a community solution to a longtime community problem," executive director of the coalition, Debi Harmon, said.

Coalition members have wanted to open a dental care center to address a burgeoning trend of oral decay among the area's low-income population. Currently, parents with Medicaid insurance have to travel to Denver for their children to receive dental care.

The Craig-based center will be open to children ages infants to 21 years who qualify under Medicaid or the state's Child Health Plan Plus.

Those without dental insurance will be charged on a sliding scale if they qualify under the center's low-income guidelines, Harmon said.

"What we're here for is to help the people in need," said Dr. Joanna Hokanson, who will serve as the center's dentist. "Far too often, folks fall between the cracks with their dental needs. We're here to address the needs of the children."

The center will focus on prevention and education, Harmon said, and not serve as a crisis facility.

The nonprofit coalition was able to help fund the endeavor with the help of a $450,000 grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation. It will provide $150,000 a year for three years to support a dental team, Harmon has said.

In April, the coalition learned that the Miles for Smiles van was pulling out of town.

After the coalition learned the service operated by Kids in Need of Dentistry would discontinue its service in Northwest Colorado, the group increased its commitment to finding a solution.

But part of that help has come from a host of local community members, Harmon said.

Construction and improvements on the center's location have gone beyond expectations, she said.

"We really need to give recognition to the community who helped pull this together," she said. "There's a lot that's been happening."

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