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Published on May 24, 2017
The Emergency Department at Essentia Health-St. Joseph' Medical Center can now offer patients with emergency dental problems more than antibiotics and pain medications. Patients can also get a referral to a local dentist to treat the underlying problem.
The Brainerd hospital is partnering with seven local dental offices and the United Way of Crow Wing and Southern Cass Counties in a project called "Help Crow Wing County Smile." The community collaboration is aimed at helping patients who lack the ability to pay for dental care or who rely on state or federal medical insurance to get connected to the place the patient can receive the care they need - a dentist office.
"Many people on Medical Assistance can't get dental care so we become their only resource," explains Terry Wurtzberger, director of St. Joseph' Emergency Department. She estimates 25-35 patients visit the department each month due to dental emergencies. Another 10-20 patients go to Urgent Care in the Baxter Clinic.
Dr. Kevin Dens, a Baxter dentist, began researching the problem when he served on the hospital' board and also on the board of the Minnesota Dental Association, where he now serves as president.
"The emergency department is not equipped to deal with dental problems," Dr. Dens explains. "They can't address the underlying problem. By the time people have pain, the decay is so deep into the teeth that it is a major problem."
Dr. Dens helped recruit six other dental offices to treat patients who come to the Emergency Department and don't have their own dentist. Those patients are referred to a participating dentist and make their own appointments.
Low reimbursement rates have prompted some dentists to quit accepting patients on government programs, which has reduced access to dental care. That has contributed to the number of people seeking emergency dental care at hospitals, Dr. Dens says.
To help launch the program, the Essentia Health-St. Joseph' Foundation contributed $15,000 to a pilot project in which the United Way partially reimburses the participating dentists for their services when they accept these patients. In addition to Dr. Dens and his son, Dr. Chris Dens, at Cosmetic & Family Dentistry, the participating dental offices are Dr. Paul Perpich, Lakes Country Dental, Design Dental, Edgewood Dental, Lakes Dental Care and Winegar Dental.
Patients that are referred for emergency dental care through "Help Crow Wing County Smile" are asked to given back to the community an hour of volunteer time in exchange for each $25 worth of dental care they receive. The United Way coordinates the giving back part of the program through their online volunteer hub, Get Connected?, at volunteer.unitedwaynow.org.
"We want to offer the best solution for the patient, the hospital and the dentist," says Dr. Dens. "We want to make a difference and help people cope with dental problems."
"We're trying to help people connect with the right care at the right time with a dentist," says Jessica Martensen, the Essentia Health-Baxter Clinic manager who also worked on the project. "We've come together with dentists to see how we can help our community."