WORTHINGTON — February is Dental Health Month, and while many people with dental insurance can count on seeing their dentist for teeth cleanings and oral exams twice a year, everyone world does not have the financial capacity to be seen by a local supplier.
For several years now, Nobles County has hosted mobile dental clinics to provide basic and advanced dental care to children and adults who are either under medical assistance or have no dental insurance.
Due to the Medical Assistance (MA) reimbursement structure, there are no dentists in Nobles or Rock County accepting MA or uninsured clients. It’s a common problem in many rural areas of Minnesota, and in fact, the closest place many of them can get dental care is the Twin Cities.
Terri Jansen, executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council’s family planning office in Worthington, said a Minneapolis-based Children’s Dental Services mobile dental lab continues to see patients in Nobles and Rock counties through donations and grants that help cover the cost of mileage, personnel, supplies and other expenses.
“We just want to recognize all of the partners who have been donors to keep the program going,” Janssen said, noting that a $2,000 grant from the Robert and Florence Wolff Memorial Endowment Fund, administered by the Southwest Initiative Foundation, covered the costs of two of the three days the mobile dental clinic was in Worthington earlier this month.
Support also comes from United Way, Worthington Area Foundation, Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation, Worthington Noon Kiwanis, SMOC Head Start, Southern Prairie Community Care, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Minnesota Oral Health Project, from Delta Dental (toothbrushes and dental floss) and Apple White Dental (toothpaste).
SMOC is partnering with Rock County and its #Luv1LuvAll organization to bring the mobile clinic to both counties, and whenever the clinic splits its time between Worthington and Luverne.
“(Children’s dental services) bring in a dental hygienist and an assistant,” Janssen said. “They are able to provide care at a higher level. They do treatments, schedules, and reschedules, and they charge all the insurance.
“It just helps people not have to drive out of the area to get the care they need,” she added. “(CDS) has a sliding scale for other patients to get them the care they need, and that gives us one more option for access to care.”
In 2020, Children’s Dental Services treated 276 clients in Nobles County, and it’s likely they saw that many patients in 2021. Records show they served 155 clients last year, but it was missing two months of data and there were no figures from the head of SMOC. Start with the clinics offered at this facility.
Janssen said it added six more clinics in Nobles County in 2021, with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. These clinics enabled 78 clients to receive dental care.
“Of the 2021 clients we saw – not including CARES clients – 122 had Minnesota state health insurance for dental care and could not be seen locally, three had other insurance and 30 had no insurance and were using the sliding fee scale,” Janssen noted.
In March, children’s dental services will return to Nobles and Rock counties, with a day dedicated to seeing children in SMOC Head Start and a day to seeing patients in the SMOC community, followed by a day in Luverne. In April, CDS will spend two days in Luverne and two days in Worthington.
“Sometimes it’s follow-up and sometimes it’s new patients,” Janssen said. “They always leave slots for emergency patients.”
While mobile dental clinics are working well, Janssen would like to see a more permanent solution locally.
“I feel like we’re having as good an impact as possible, but hopefully we can have a bigger impact,” she said. “We are aware that Blue Cross Blue Shield has committed funds to Nobles County to hire a Dental Innovations Coordinator. We hope that once this position is in place, we can have a greater impact.
“What I would like to see is bricks and mortar for reduced cost clinics for people who cannot be seen by other dentists due to circumstances beyond their control,” he said. she adds.
Pipestone County is planning to do just that.
A Caring Hands dental clinic plans to open in Pipestone this spring and will be able to serve clients on medical assistance. Pipestone County contracts with PrimeWest, and that provider is willing to accept patients within a 60-mile radius of Pipestone, meaning Worthington residents could potentially be seen there.
In the meantime, Janssen said they will continue to locate their mobile dental clinics in the former SMOC Head Start building on 11th Street in Worthington and other available spaces.
Individuals wishing to schedule a dental appointment with Children’s Dental Services can call directly at 1-866-543-6009. And, if anyone would like to contribute financially to the program, contact Janssen at (507) 360-7579.