Your Health: Dental Coalition urges awareness of oral health options in Moffat County |

Your Health: Dental Coalition urges awareness of oral health options in Moffat County

Dentist Molly Smith performs a check-up on 11-year-old Diana Mendoza at the offices of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition. The program performs dental work for people in five counties, including Moffat and Routt, with 1,222 Moffat County residents receiving oral health services in 2012.

Those shiny white things in your mouth can be great if you take care of them, but forget about them long enough and they can start to cause significant problems.

The mission of maintaining good oral health for all ages is one the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition (NWCDC) continues to strive toward, even as the battle continues to stay on an uphill course.

Starting off as a collection of dental professionals in 1997 and starting an official clinic in 2005, NWCDC offers preventative, restorative and surgical dentistry to Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties.

In 2012, the group saw 2,153 individual patients across the five counties, 252 of whom were children. More than half the patients — 1,222 — were residents of Moffat County.

The cost for services provided by the organization is determined by a sliding scale in relation to the federal poverty guidelines. Executive Director Janet Pearcey said more than 70 percent of regular clients have a household income under 100 percent of the poverty level based on their family size, meaning a discount of 10 to 70 percent is a tremendous help.

Pearcey said kids covered under Child Health Plan Plus — available to children of Colorado residents with income below 250 percent of the poverty level — might be in danger of maxing out their yearly benefits at dental offices that don't use the sliding scale before getting the full care they need. Programs like Old Age Pension Dental Assistance Program for Colorado residents 60 and up can also provide relief.

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"It's an unbelievable program because the co-pays are so low," Pearcey said. We only have 22 clients in (the Old Age program), but anyone who wants to learn more about it, it would definitely be worth their time to check it out."

The problem isn't just financial. Even with the assistance available to low-income families, the perception remains within the region that oral care is not crucial to overall health, Pearcey said.

"People just don't think about it because it's not like a scrape on the arm where you can visually see something," she said. "It's expensive, so most (insurance) plans, there's medical but not dental so they can't afford it."

Even those with dental insurance rarely use it, Pearcey said, ignoring "emergent issues" like toothaches or easily visible cavities until it can become something more serious and harder to treat.

Gisela Garrison, director of the Community Health Center at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said the amount of energy the immune system expounds on oral issues takes away from other parts of the body. The Health Center staff checks on each patient's dental state to determine if oral problems are affecting their whole body, but only about 40 percent of those they refer to dental professionals actually bother with the follow-up, risking a greater problem to their health.

"We've seen a lot of patients who have a chronic immune deficiency because they've been fighting dental disease for 10 years," she said.

Garrison listed off asthma, bronchitis and sinus infections as health concerns aggravated by poor oral health, and some problems can become so severe they require hospitalization.

"When you step in the emergency room, that's almost like an automatic $500 to fill out paperwork, and it keeps going up from there," she said.

Though it can be a chore to get people into the office, patients and parents of young patients who utilize the Dental Coalition's services take it seriously, said the clinic's on-site dentist, Molly Smith.

Poor oral health has been linked to problems with speech development for young children, she said, adding that taking care of your children's teeth starts as young as infancy. Local programs like Cavity-Free at Three have allowed the Dental Coalition, working with Connections 4 Kids, to ensure oral health for the youngest residents of Northwest Colorado.

Even though many are vigilant, some parents persist in the attitude that good oral health isn't as much of a concern for kids with baby teeth. Besides baby teeth setting the trend for the permanent teeth that will later grow in, damage can happen all around the mouth.

"We've seen some children old enough that have their first adult molars that are already so decayed they have to be taken out," Smith said.

For children of an older age, NWCDC has also performed dental checks alongside the regular hearing and vision tests for elementary and middle school students within the Moffat County School District.

"It's just a visual check, no x-rays or anything, but they can see if there's anything really apparent," Pearcey said. "Moffat County schools have been great with that, and it's not mandated by the state, which is something we'd like to get changed."

Dental Coalition board member Joel Sheridan said he got involved with the organization after hearing about children who were spending all day in the nurse's office with a toothache or similar ailment, therefore missing time in the classroom due to a problem that could have easily been treated with preventative care.

"It's kind of a no-brainer, but oral health really does have a lot to do with the learning process for kids," he said.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or

Dental tips

Besides brushing, flossing and regular dental check-ups, the following are recommendations to avoid problems with oral health:


Your child’s dental history starts with their first tooth, so get them checked out as soon as possible.

Do not put your baby or toddler to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. Anything with too much sugar can cause tooth decay known as “bottle rot.” Water is the best option.

Young children

Children who use pacifiers should be encouraged to stop sucking on them by age 4 at the latest. Thumb-sucking can have an even worse effect on teeth.


Continue to seek dental care as often as possible even if you use prostheses like dentures. Oral health needs to be maintained at every stage of life.

All ages

Bottled water that has gone through the reverse osmosis process can affect the amount of fluoride in your teeth. Some types of bottled water has also proven to be acidic. If possible, check the pH balance of your water before drinking.

If you eat or drink anything with a high sugar content, do it quickly. Prolonged exposure of candy, soda or other sugary foods or drinks to your teeth cause greater damage.

— For those in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson or Grand County seeking assistance in affordable dental care, contact the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition at 970-824-8000 or at to see if you are eligible for the sliding scale fee. Programs offered for oral health include Child Health Plan Plus, Medicaid and Old Age Pension Dental Assistance Program for Colorado, for which the Dental Coalition can provide additional information.