Happy news for the hundreds of patients waiting for dental care in Becker, Otter Tail and other counties in west-central Minnesota: A new clinic in Fergus Falls (and expanded dental access for children in Moorhead) will help chip away at long waiting lists faced by low-income families that can’t get dental appointments.

The new clinic in Fergus Falls combines what used to be two separate clinics, “both in bad repair,” and replaces them with the $5.1 million Center for Dental Health clinic, said Jane Neubauer, regional dental services coordinator for Partnership4Health in Otter Tail County.

Through Apple Tree Dental, the new clinic will help people of all ages who can’t afford care, and through the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the clinic will help people with disabilities who require specialized equipment and care.

The new clinic has essentially doubled capacity by adding six dental chair stations to the Apple Tree Dental side of the clinic, for a total of 12, and also adds two more chair stations on the Department of Human Services side, Neubauer said.

Ramped up dental services for children in Moorhead

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Children’s Dental Services in Moorhead is also an option for people in this area, she added.

“They expanded capacity for children at Clay County,” she said. They take people up to age 26 and pregnant women of any age.”

That clinic “has lots of availability, and they just added extra days to their monthly schedule,” she said.

Children’s Dental Services will provide services at the Clay County Family Services Center at 715 11th St. N., Moorhead on Dec. 16, 17, 21, 22, 28, 29, and 30.

The non-profit dental clinic accepts all forms of insurance and offers free and reduced-cost care based on income. Staff there will work with families to help them apply for insurance or discounted care, or create payment plans as necessary.

“Everything helps,” Neubauer said. “It doesn’t matter where you live (in Minnesota) as long as they can get you in for an appointment.”

Separate staff and work stations, shared imaging and lab space

At the innovative Fergus Falls clinic, Apple Tree owns the new facility and Human Services is a long-term tenant. Last year, Apple Tree provided more than 9,100 appointments and screenings to more than 3,300 patients in Fergus Falls.

Even so, more than 1,200 people remain on a waiting list.

At its Fergus Falls location, the Minnesota Department of Human Services serves 650 patients with disabilities who can’t get dental care elsewhere, and gets 1,900 clinic visits every year.

In the new 11,000-square-foot clinic, Apple Tree and Human Services will continue to have separate staff, their own treatment spaces, and different entrances. They will share state-of-the-art imaging and lab space, sterilization equipment and other costs.

The collaboration will save money, improve quality and make it possible to nearly double access to dental care in West Central Minnesota, according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The center will also help attract and be a training facility for dental professionals.

Big grants helped make clinic a reality

The new clinic, which opened in September, was built thanks to more than $2 million in grants from the Frank W. Veden Charitable Trust, the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, the Otto Bremer Trust, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, and PrimeWest Health. Other businesses and residents also chipped in, and Fergus Falls and Bremer Bank stepped up with long-term financing.

Apple Tree CEO Dr. Michael Helgeson said strong support from community leaders paved the way for the project.

“Collaborative efforts are key to attracting the funding that is making the new Center for Dental Health possible,” he said. “The grantors each are making extraordinary contributions, and the partnership with the Department of Human Services means that we’re poised to help thousands of area residents get critically needed health care.”