- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

DENVER (AP) - Nathan Martinez is an unusual 9-year-old boy. He actually likes dental care. So he showed no fear at an appointment in December. He calmly walked into a hygienist’s office wearing a red shirt that declared, “You just be yourself and I’ll be awesome,” and plopped onto her reclining chair with a smile.

What was really unusual, though, was the location. Nathan came down the hall for dental treatment immediately after a physical checkup.

He is one of more than 4,000 patients seen this year in a program that the Delta Dental Foundation calls unique in scope.

It has committed $3.3 million over five years to open 16 dental offices in Colorado that team up with medical doctors to provide a broader range of health care in a single location. All have hygienists who can refer patients to a dentist. Some also have a dentist on site.

Nathan got his physical and a dental appointment at Doctors Care, a Littleton clinic that has been helping low-income families for 27 years.

Dental care has become the fourth prong among Doctors Care programs that also provide medical, mental health and social-work services.

“If you don’t have heat, it’s hard for me to talk about your diabetes,” said Bebe Kleinman, the clinic’s chief executive officer.

Delta Dental launched its Colorado medical-dental integration project with the knowledge that many preschool children never see a dentist and the hope that early intervention at medical clinics will reduce long-term pains and costs.

Across the state, dental-care shortages abound.

Eight of Colorado’s 64 counties have been classified as dental deserts, with no dentists or community-based dental clinics.

Poor families face an extra barrier. According to the Colorado Health Institute, only one-third of practicing dentists treated Medicaid patients in fiscal 2013-2014, and 5 percent of those dentists treated nearly half the clients.

Doctors Care doesn’t have a dentist. But it now employs Doreen Swatloski, a registered dental hygienist who cleans teeth and looks for problems.

“If we see dark spots, then we’ll go ahead and refer them to a dentist,” she said.

Nathan’s teeth look good. “I am happy to see that,” Swatloski said. “Do you brush them morning and night?”

“Yes,” he said without hesitation.

Modern dental hygiene involves more than twice-a-year cleanings. During his visit, Nathan also got a sealant that will help protect his molars from cavities for 15 years.

As he lay in Swatloski’s chair, she placed rose-colored glasses over his eyes to protect them from a bright overhead light.

“I’m preparing the teeth for sealant right now,” she announced. “Roll your head to me a little bit and open your mouth big, like an alligator.”

He complied, sticking his tongue out only to fight off the sealant’s plastic taste.

Minutes later, his teeth wore a durable protective coat.

Swatloski pronounced him awesome. “No more plastic,” she said.

The first phase of Delta Dental’s grant program opened dental offices at health centers mostly in the Denver area. The second will spread dental integration to health care sites from La Junta to Grand Junction.

Allison Cusick, program officer for Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, said the response from people offered a new service at health clinics has been rewarding so far.

“This is so brand new,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”


Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com

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