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New dentist making smiles

Coalition starts taking patients with dentist on board

Proceeds from The Yahoo Golf Tournament, in memory of Ralph Knez and Jim Severson, will help low-income patients pay for dental care through the Northwest Colorado Dental Care clinic. Sign-up is first-come, first-served for the Sept. 17 event. For more information, call Tom or Helen Knez at 824-4227 or Dan Severson at 824-3668 or 824-9481.

Dentist Jerry Thalken is an enemy of tooth decay.

Appointments for root canals and phlebotomies for low-income and Medicaid children have filled the books since the dentist for the nonprofit Northwest Colorado Dental Care clinic started work earlier this month.

The clinic is the answer to the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition’s mission to serve the dental needs of low-income and indigent patients.



“I’ve seen Medicaid patients in Nebraska, but it was nothing like this,” Thalken said.

Thalken, 26, is a graduate of the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center College of Dentistry. His hire at the clinic is his first job out of school. But Thalken had experienced dentistry growing up — his father and brother also are dentists.



He said he accepted the position because it seemed as if it would be rewarding work.

“I thought it would be nice,” Thalken said. “At a private practice, it seemed like all they wanted was for me to make them a lot of money.”

The Craig-based clinic is open to prenatal mothers and children up to 20 years old who are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Plan. Some low-income, uninsured people can qualify by paying for services on a sliding scale.

There are more than 4,000 eligible Medicaid and low-income patients in a five-county region of Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties.

Harmon said one of the clinic’s goals is to open it to low-income adults and those covered by Medicare. That will happen slowly, she said.

“It’s a prescription for failure to open the door to everything right now,” Harmon said.

Having a dentist on staff is the first step toward that feat. Coalition members have weathered several setbacks in getting a clinic to serve the dental needs of the area’s low-income population. One of those hurdles was finding a dentist — not easy given the nationwide shortage of dentists. The coalition had been left with a number of appointments on the books when the clinic’s initial hire, Dentist Joanna Hokanson, quit soon after being hired.

But coalition board members and staff said they are happy to be moving forward.

“We’re finally seeing what we wanted to do come to fruition,” said Debbie Barger, an expanded duties dental assistant at the clinic. “We’ve jumped over a lot of hurdles getting there.”

To keep operations going, the clinic recently was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Boettcher Foundation, Director Debi Harmon said. Those funds will go toward purchasing equipment and other capital projects.

In another charitable move, two Craig residents have decided to contribute the proceeds of an upcoming golf tournament to low-income patients to help cover costs of care.

Sign-ups for the Yahoo Golf Tournament scheduled for Sept. 17 and are on a first-come, first-served basis. Last year, the event earned more than $3,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Craig. Door prizes include a big screen TV and cash prizes.

For $10 each, people can purchase a golf ball that will be dropped from a plane onto a target at the Yampa Valley Golf Course. The person who purchased the ball that lands closest to the center will win the TV, valued at $1,500.

“The money from this specifically goes toward dental care for indigent people,” said Elaine Sullivan, a coalition board member.


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