On February 5, Family Health Centers (FHC) opened a new dental clinic in Twisp. With Room One board member and dentist Teresa Castner at the helm, the clinic is providing services to a segment of our community historically underserved: the uninsured or underinsured.
In the 2012 Room One community needs assessment, Methow Valley residents identified an overall void in local affordable and accessible health services, naming dental care for our low-income neighbors as a clear priority. Armed with this information, Teresa was motivated to not only bring community awareness to this concern, but to do something about it.
Slipping Through the Cracks
Without access to dental care, disparities in oral health are growing at an alarming rate. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that poor oral health is directly related to an individual’s ability to obtain and keep dental insurance: low-income children are twice as likely to experience tooth decay as children of higher income (CDC, 2013).
While advocating to close this access gap, Teresa found a viable and practiced partner: Family Health Centers (FHC). The FHC model provides health care services for all Okanogan County residents regardless of their ability to pay. By offering a sliding scale and accepting Medicare and Medicaid, FHC prioritizes vulnerable populations including children, the elderly and disabled.
Teresa describes the importance of FHC’s role in serving these populations: “80% of Medicaid-insured adults are not able to access care because there aren’t providers who accept Medicaid for payment.” And dental coverage rates are even worse: Medicaid reimbursement rates offered for dental services are so minimal it is often unaffordable for private practitioners to serve these patients—especially for practitioners in small rural communities.
Oral Health – Why Should I Care?
So why does oral health matter? Teresa describes the mouth as a “gateway to the body:” poor oral health is now being connected to elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have also connected oral health with education outcomes: children with oral health problems are more likely to have problems at school, miss significant time in class, and less likely to do all homework, compared to those without oral health problems (CDC, 2013). Teresa reports that FHC has already made a “big difference” in health among an entire generation of Okanogan children by improving access to care.
With the phones ringing off the hook, the new dental clinic is off to a booming start. Yet, Teresa doesn’t plan to stop here, “I have so many ideas!” Teresa hopes to expand the clinic’s ability to identify and serve more community members who have “slipped through the cracks” holding the ideal “we all need dental care” close to her heart.
Room One is thrilled to have FHC meeting this important need and to continue to support access to oral health care for all.