Bringing services where they are needed: increasing dental care access in Buffalo

[Allina Newsroom, September 07, 2023] Mona Volden can’t help but smile as Community Dental Care, a nonprofit dental clinic, marks one year in her beloved community of Buffalo, Minnesota. The presence of this state-of-the-art dental clinic adds an important layer of dental care services to this area, and it is here because a team of community leaders and health care workers listened to the needs of the people who live in Wright County.



Identifying the need

Every three years, Allina Health’s hospitals, including Buffalo Hospital, complete a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). In the CHNA completed in 2019, members of the community clearly stated they wanted easier access to dental care. Many people with state insurance, or no insurance, had to travel an hour to the Twin Cities to see a dentist. As the Community Engagement and Wellness Manager for Allina Health’s Buffalo Hospital, Volden took on the task of trying to help address this community health need. She joined forces with health care professionals from CentraCare in Monticello, as well as Wright County Community Action and Wright County Public Health to do some investigating and figure out how to help.


“We dug further and realized we were seeing a lot of patients in our emergency room for dental care needs. We don’t have dentists in the emergency room, so what could our doctors do? They could give them pain medication and an antibiotic, if appropriate,” Volden said. “Apart from that, all we could do is get them to go to someone who can provide care for a dental emergency.”


The group joined a Public Health task force subcommittee, already examining the dental care needs in the area. They quickly learned that while there were programs focused on schools and teaching dental hygiene to youth, the community did not have anything in place to provide dental service to people without private insurance at the volume needed.


Learning how lack of access impacts people

Many people in the position to make a difference did not have awareness about the true impact of poor dental health, according to Volden. She and the team worked on finding tangible ways to demonstrate the importance of creating more access to dental care and the impact of poor oral health. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says poor oral health is linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as poor diabetes control. Poor oral health can also negatively affect a person’s self-confidence.


“Well, you’re probably not going to put yourself out there. You’re probably not going to smile. You may limit your opportunities because you may be hesitant to engage with people. You may be afraid to try new things because you feel bad about yourself because your teeth aren’t healthy,” Volden said. “They may be broken or missing, or you have oral pain and gum disease. So, now we’re talking about social determinants of health - conditions of the environment, such as where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that can affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”




Finding the right partner

The team realized showing the impact of limited access to dental care wasn’t enough. They needed to find a dental clinic that accepted all patients and convince them to come to Wright County. To their surprise, a Google search for a “nonprofit dental clinic” turned up Community Dental Care.


“We provide culturally sensitive oral healthcare, preventive education, professional training and we advocate for access for all,” said Karen Kleinhans, Chief Executive Officer at Community Dental Care.


Community Dental Care accepts all patients, including those with commercial insurance; however, Kleinhans believes it is the largest Medicaid dental provider in the state of Minnesota. It already had locations in Maplewood, Saint Paul, Robbinsdale and Rochester. As it turns out, the organization was looking to expand into Central Minnesota when Volden and her team reached out to learn more. From there, things fell into place. Through the work of community partners that included Allina Health and lawmakers, bond money and philanthropic donations were secured to help bring the clinic to Buffalo. The team also found the perfect, central location for the 12-room clinic.


“We were able to put the dental clinic in the new Government Center. Now think about this. You’re going to the Government Center for other things, too,” Volden said. “You might be going there for food vouchers, or you may go in there for emergency assistance. Guess what? There’s a nonprofit clinic right there. And all those employees on that campus, they can use this dental clinic too.”



When Community Dental Care held its ribbon cutting in September of 2022, a 70-year-old man from Buffalo eagerly attended, ready to make an appointment. He’d spent five years needing to see a dentist but couldn’t find one willing to take his insurance. After completing two restorative dental appointments, he is now among the more than 3,000 patients who received dental care at the new location in Buffalo during its first six months of operation. 91% of the patients were signed up for a public program and 49% of them were children.

It's one of those things that if you can look back on your career and say I was part of that,” Volden said. “You kind of want to pat each other on the back and say, ‘job well done.’”


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Posted on September 07, 2023 in Buffalo Hospital

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