Commentary - State takes away critical programRecently, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) eliminated a dental care program that benefited thousands of children in the state.
By Al Olsen, clinic director, Caring Hands Dental Clinic
Recently, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) eliminated a dental care program that benefited thousands of children in the state. The Collaborative Oral Health Practice Model was developed in 2006, so young children from lower income families could be seen by a highly trained dental hygienist outside the traditional dentist office setting in order to meet their Head Start enrollment requirement of having a dental exam. DHS’s reasoning behind eliminating this program? All children deserve to see a dentist. True, but typically it is very difficult for children covered by Medical Assistance, Minnesota Care or uninsured to find a dentist willing to honor their insurance or lack of. This includes a majority of children enrolled in Head Start.
The Early Childhood Dental Network (ECDN) of west central Minnesota is a group of more than 40 agencies and individuals working to improve children’s oral health and access to dental care for low-income children. The ECDN works with nonprofit dental clinics, such as Caring Hands Dental Clinic in Alexandria, to use this same Collaborative Oral Health Practice Model, for children in areas where dental care for low-income families is limited. Dental hygienists went to an environment where the children were at ease, cleaned the child’s teeth, performed an assessment, applied fluoride, referred those needing treatment with a dentist and educated all of the children on the importance of dental care and seeking an exam. Whether in the classroom or outreach clinic, this model worked efficiently and effectively, at a low cost to the taxpayer. The future savings created by this program would have been immeasurable.
The ECDN agrees wholeheartedly with the state’s rationale that all children deserve to see a dentist, no matter their families’ income. Yet, low reimbursement rates from the state, higher administrative costs and the multiple barriers faced by some families have discouraged private dentists from treating our youngest, poorest children. The result is far fewer children, especially low-income children, receiving the dental care they so desperately need. This decision has eliminated a powerfully successful program and caused the oral health of the children to go backwards in time, after years of hard work by many.
This letter is not about the importance of receiving regular oral health exams by a qualified dentist. Everyone agrees this is important. This letter is about thousands of children that, because of the state’s recent decision, will not have access to any form of dental care. We live in an area of the state where public transportation is limited, wages are low, families are struggling to make ends meet and a visit to the dentist’s office is considered a luxury. Dentists are few, and those who accept Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care insurances are even fewer. The reality is the Collaborative Oral Health Practice Model makes total sense for health care and saves dollars.
It is time for our residents and communities to react. Commissioner Cal Ludeman from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and our local legislators need to hear about the day-to-day challenges that real families face in finding affordable dental care for their children. The ECDN understands that times are tough and days are busy, but please consider sending our state leaders a note to let them know your support for the Collaborative Oral Health Practice Model, or any other challenges your family may face accessing oral health care in west central Minnesota. Please do so before the elections, as this is an issue the politicians should have an answer to.