Doctors Take on Dental Duties to Reach Low-income and Uninsured Patients

From CBS News

Pediatrician Patricia Braun and her team saw roughly 100 children at a community health clinic on a recent Monday. They gave flu shots and treatments for illnesses like ear infections. But Braun also did something most primary care doctors don’t. She peered inside mouths searching for cavities or she brushed fluoride varnish on their teeth.

“We’re seeing more oral disease than the general population. There is a bigger need,” Braun said of the patients she treats at Bernard F. Gipson Eastside Family Health Center, which is part of Denver Health, the largest safety-net hospital in Colorado, serving low-income, uninsured, and underinsured residents.

Braun is part of a trend across the United States to integrate oral health into medical checkups for children, pregnant women, and others who cannot afford or do not have easy access to dentists. With federal and private funding, these programs have expanded in the past 10 years, but they face socioeconomic barriers, workforce shortages, and the challenge of dealing with the needs of new immigrants.

With a five-year, $6 million federal grant, Braun and her colleagues have helped train 250 primary care providers in oral health in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona. Similar projects are wrapping up in Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, and New York, funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Beyond assessment, education, and preventive care, primary care providers refer patients to on- or off-site dentists, or work with embedded dental hygienists as part of their practice.

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