Dental Van drives miles for smiles

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— Debi Garoutte is constantly saddened by the poor dental health of children throughout Northwest Colorado.

Garoutte, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, said she has become accustomed to seeing kids who haven't brushed their teeth for months and who can't sleep at night due to the unbearable pain of dental decay.

"It's so sad," Garoutte said. "Oral health decay is a very serious problem that has been linked to an incredible number of other health problems."

Fixing dental decay and other oral health problems is the mission behind Miles for Smiles, a roaming dental care van that provides professional dental care to western Colorado children not protected by dental insurance.

The Miles for Smiles van makes its stop in Steamboat Springs next week, when it will be camped out in the Yampa Valley Medical Center parking lot Monday through Friday. Garoutte encouraged families from the Oak Creek and Hayden areas to come to Steamboat for Miles for Smiles services.

The 36-foot van is equipped with two dental chairs, a laboratory and sterilization equipment. The van and its staff dentist and assistant can provide an assortment of dental services, from screenings to X-rays, exams, fluoride treatments, sealants and emergency care. Miles for Smiles seeks not only to clean teeth, but also to educate children in good dental hygiene, Garoutte said.

Children under the age of 18 who have no dental insurance and are not covered by Medicaid qualify for Miles for Smiles services. Patients are charged a $15 appointment fee plus 10 percent of the cost of any dental work performed.

In the end, patients receive a 90 percent discount on dental services, Garoutte said. Additionally, Miles for Smiles will ensure all qualified patients receive the dental care they need, Garoutte said.

"All the children are taken care of when the van leaves," she said.

The van is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kids In Need of Dentistry, the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition with cooperation from Yampa Valley Medical Center, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, Rio Blanco County Nursing Services, Routt County and Moffat County United Ways and the Health Care Foundation of the Yampa Valley, in addition to other local support.

Last year, Miles for Smiles treated 324 patients and provided $72,194 in dental services. Garoutte said appointment numbers already tripled for this year's van tour, and she hopes Miles for Smiles will double its previous year patient numbers and services provided figures.

Parents and children do not need an appointment for Miles for Smiles services, but they will need to fill out an eligibility form and provide proof of salary. CHP patients are eligible for dental van services, Garoutte said.

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