Letter: Oral health advocates aim to reduce Colorado’s ‘dental desert’
June 5, 2015
A recent Colorado Health Institute report, highlighted on Colorado Public Radio, cited a record increase in the number of Colorado residents who have dental coverage under Medicaid and the lack of provider access to meet their dental needs. With a record 1.1 million people now covered for dental care under Medicaid, it's true that the "dental desert" has been heating up in Colorado over the last few years. While access to dental providers in rural and low-income areas of Colorado may be limited today, oral health advocates in Colorado have been working hard towards solutions that continue to address oral health equity by working to create access to dental care throughout Colorado.
There are a number of exciting initiatives recently launched by Colorado's oral health funders and partners aimed at expanding access to dental care. Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation has launched the Colorado Medical-Dental Integration Project, which aims to reduce the gap by integrating a dental hygienist to provide preventive dental care to children. The dental hygienist will be a part of the care team in 17 Colorado primary medical clinics.
Caring for Colorado Foundation is working to improve access to dental care for under-served children and seniors through a new program entitled SMILES Dental Home. The SMILES Project will deploy Registered Dental Hygienists into community settings such as schools, Head Start Centers, assisted-living sites, senior centers and residential and day programs for people with disabilities to provide dental care in the community. Caring for Colorado will fund regions of the state to pilot the SMILES Project starting in 2015.
Also, the Colorado Dental Association's Community Dental Health Program is working to partner with interested rural and under-served communities to open new dental facilities in these areas.
More than just expanding access to current Medicaid providers, Colorado needs more dental professionals to serve these clients. Legislation was passed in 2014 to provide financial incentives for dentists to treat more Medicaid enrollees, and we await federal approval to implement.
We are not there yet, but we feel a cool down coming to this "dental desert" as these important initiatives help create more provider access, bringing us closer to our goal to eradicate dental disease in Colorado.
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