Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Since Debi Harmon became executive director of the North--west Colorado Dental Coalition in March, she has been witness to some of the most atrocious tooth and gum decay in children she has seen.
"Some of the teeth I have seen are equivalent to those in the Third World," she said. "Some of our patients have never seen a dentist before."
The Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition of Craig recently opened an office to provide dental care and dental education to low-income residents of Routt, Moffat, Grand, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties.
Harmon is especially proud that the coalition is one of only three nonprofit dental clinics in Northwest Colorado.
"What we're doing here is what no one else is doing," she said.
What they are doing, she said, is helping save children's teeth through preventative education, check-ups and emergency work.
Harmon said the clinic is set up to provide dental care for prenatal mothers and children as old as 20 who are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Plan. Some low-income, uninsured residents can qualify for services by paying on a sliding scale.
Harmon said there are 4,000 eligible Medicaid and low-in-come patients in the five-county region served by the clinic.
The office's dentists work with Routt County children every day, a positive sign for the clinic because, Harmon said, some families have had to drive to Denver to get affordable dental care.
"We're still trying to reach out to more people, but right now, we're glad that families aren't having to drive 150 miles one way to get care," she said.
During the clinic's first month, Routt County residents accounted for 40 percent of its patients.
Harmon said the clinic is working with rural communities in Routt County, as well as the Visiting Nurse Association, social services and school nurses, to help children who need it the most.
Harmon said she sees children with painful cavities, gum disease, black teeth, bottle rot and underdeveloped teeth and gums on an almost daily basis.
Because of these problems, the clinic works hard to not only provide care, but also to educate parents and children about how to maintain a healthy and hearty smile.
"If you have a tooth, you need to learn to take care of it," she said. "You're never too young to take care of yourself."
School programs throughout the county provide toothbrushes to children as well as preliminary screenings to start the education and dental care process. Harmon said early detection of dental problems is integral to ensure that a child's condition will be taken care of.
"There are too many parents out there that think they only need to take their children to a dentist when there is a crisis instead of taking them for regular preventative care," she said.
Parents and community mem-bers have welcomed the clinic with open arms.
"This has always been a community problem," she said. "We used to ask, 'What do we do with these kids?' and now we have an answer."
Harmon has big plans for the clinic and hopes to expand services to adults. Because the clinic has a full-time dentist, she thinks it's on the road to achieving more of its goals.
"We're doing what we can right now, but we need to be doing more," she said.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 824-8000.
-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org