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Valley-Wide Health Systems Selected as One of 16 Sites to Participate in Groundbreaking Project Working to Expand Access to Oral

The mouth is the gateway to the health of the rest of the body, but many of our state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents struggle to access dental care. As a result, Colorado is facing a silent epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cavities, which are largely preventable, are the most common chronic illness among U.S. children.

The statistics are grim:

  1. One in seven Colorado kindergarteners have untreated cavities.
  2. Children without dental insurance or those insured by Medicaid have more than twice the rate of cavities as commercially/privately insured children.
  3. According to the CDC, Hispanic children ages 2-8 have double the rate of untreated cavities (26 percent) as non-Hispanic white children (14 percent).
  4. Eight of Colorado’s 64 counties are classified as dental deserts, meaning they do not have a dentist providing oral health services. Crowley and Kiowa counties are two of those counties. In Otero County, only limited pediatric dental care is available.

Valley-Wide is now working to address these disparities by providing preventive dental services during regular medical visits at our La Junta Clinic.

Charlene Pariera, RDH (left) and her assistant Lisa Bensley (right) work together to expand access to Oral Health Care in Colorado

Funding for these services is provided through a grant from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation’s (DDCOF) Colorado Medical Dental Integration (CO MDI) Project. The funds have enabled the LJC CO MDI Department to hire a registered dental hygienist, Charlene Pariera, who is an integrated member of the care team.

When children come in for a medical visit, they also receive an oral health care screening. Charlene provides additional services including cleanings, fluoride varnish, sealants and/or x-rays as well as education on healthy oral health habits to try at home. Children who do not have a dentist are referred to one. We also offer screenings and oral health education to expectant moms during prenatal visits.

CO MDI is the first project of its kind to integrate the full scope of preventive dental services into medical practices, meaning that the CO MDI dental hygienists practice in team with medical providers. The goal of CO MDI is to expand access to oral health care in Colorado. The La Junta Clinic is one of only 16 medical practices in the state that received grants to implement this groundbreaking model of integrated care, and the only clinic in southeastern Colorado to participate. All other sites are located in northern Colorado.

Integrating oral health care into primary care medical settings has many benefits. It’s more convenient for families when medical and dental concerns can be addressed at the same time and at the same place. Receiving preventive dental care also reduces the risk of more serious oral health conditions that are expensive to treat. And our providers are able to work as a team to gain a better understanding of the full scope of needs Valley-Wide patients have.

Over the past year, Charlene and her assistant Lisa Bensley have treated many pediatric and prenatal patients who were able to access dental care for the first time in their lives. Valley-Wide is truly filling a gap in our community to ensure that more people can access oral health care. To date, more than 470 patients have received preventive dental care at Valley-Wide La Junta through CO MDI.

DDCOF recently recognized the efforts and success in implementing CO MDI at the La Junta Clinic. Valley-Wide staff presented to the 15 other CO MDI grantees on team building and problem solving at the project’s May 2016 Learning Network in Denver.

Whether it’s catching tooth decay before it turns into a large cavity or providing preventive dental services to an expectant mom to reduce the risk of pre-term labor, CO MDI is helping us create not just a medical home, but a whole health home for Arkansas Valley families.

Learn more about Valley-Wide’s involvement in CO MDI at www.deltadentalcofoundation.org.