New Dental Clinics: Latest of Many Steps to Improve Oral Health in Spokane
By Nick Velis, D.D.S., F.A.G.D. and Bob Lutz, MD, MPH
The latest dental developments in Spokane are two new dental clinics and a new dental residency program - the result of a $2 million grant to Providence Health Care, on top of a $2 million appropriation from the Washington State Legislature. Non-profit Delta Dental of Washington and its foundation, Arcora Foundation, are funding the grant to increase access to dental care, especially for underserved and disadvantaged individuals and families.
Survey results from Spokane Regional Health District illustrate the significant need for increased dental care access and services. For example, one of every three Spokane County adults has lost one or more teeth to decay, and five percent have lost all their teeth. Also, more than half of Spokane County children have had cavities by the third grade.
Even having insurance coverage doesn’t guarantee access to care. Nor does the expansion of dental coverage through Apple Health (Medicaid), as only 23 percent of Spokane-area adults with Apple Health (Medicaid) went to a dentist in 2016.
The new clinics at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and the Northside Clinic operated by CHAS Health will bring online a total of 26 new dental chairs to the community.
It has long been recognized poor oral health is damaging in many ways. Though our community thus far has chosen not to adopt fluoridation to prevent poor oral health, as most major cities across the country have, Spokane stakeholders have taken many innovative steps to address the problem.
The Smile Spokane Oral Health Local Impact Network (LIN) is one such effort. Community leaders and stakeholders convened in 2015 to discuss how to more effectively address the community’s oral health issues. They created Smile Spokane with financial and program support from Arcora Foundation to help increase community awareness of the importance of oral health and LIN grew out of these discussions. Organizations pledged to take defined roles in leading complementary strategies as part of a comprehensive effort to make real progress on oral health.
Partners leading specific LIN strategies include Providence Health Care, Frontier Behavioral Health, Spokane Regional Health District, Communities in Schools, Arcora Foundation, Oral Health Connections, and Aging & Long Term Care of Eastern Washington. The LIN is working closely with local dentists and health care providers, who are providing guidance via a Clinical Implementation Committee.
Spokane is also where the groundbreaking Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) program was created more than two decades ago. Dentists concerned about the prevalence and impacts of dental disease in young children decided there needed to be a greater emphasis on prevention and getting kids into care early. From Spokane, (with help from Arcora Foundation) ABCD spread to every county in the state, has been touted nationally as a model program, and has been replicated in other states.
The reasons for all this emphasis on oral health go beyond statistics of cavities in children and lost teeth in adults. Oral disease is almost totally preventable. But for our friends, family and neighbors who don’t have access to fluoride or dental care, oral disease is painful, its treatment is costly, and it makes many aspects of life difficult – everything from learning, getting good nutrition and finding a job, to being able to get a decent night’s sleep. It is also linked to many serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and complications in pregnancy.
We are thrilled that the two new clinics will be coming to Spokane and look forward to the day when oral disease is not a fact of life for Spokane residents.
Dr. Velis is a practicing general dentist in Spokane Valley, is the current co-chair of Smile Spokane, and is the past president of the Spokane District Dental Society Foundation.
Dr. Lutz is a board certified family medicine physician who moved to Spokane, WA in 2004 to practice Urgent Care. He is currently the Spokane County Health Officer.