BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) — A dental center has opened in southern Vermont to serve patients on Medicaid who officials say have had trouble finding a dentist.
Since the Windham County Dental Center opened in late May, "we've been very, very busy," said Carmen Derby, director of United Way of Windham County, which helped open the new center.
United Way used to hold a free dental care day once a year for people on Medicaid or those without insurance, Vermont Public Radio reported . Dentists would volunteer their services. There was always more need than could be addressed, Derby said.
"The reality is that members in our community that have Medicaid could not find a dental home," she said. "And our data told us that we had about 5,000 people in Windham County that did not have a dental home. And we wanted to create a home for people to come."
Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is collaborating with United Way on the new dental center. It provides the office and a staff dentist, while other staffers volunteer. Several grants will help the center run for three years, and organizers hope the model is sustainable, VPR reported.
Gionna Martocci, of Brattleboro, who is on Medicaid, hadn't been to a dentist in five years before she discovered the new center.
"I feel like I tried a couple different dental offices, and you know, my insurance wasn't accepted. ... Nobody was taking my insurance, they weren't taking new patients," she said. She had an emergency wisdom tooth extraction the last time she went to the dentist and had to pay for the $800 service herself, which maxed out her credit card.
She recently got a checkup and cleaning at the new center and has an appointment to start work on some dental issues she's been ignoring.
"I'm going back in September, and for the first time ever I'm, like, excited to go to the dentist. So it's, you know, it's a big deal to be able to smile again," she said.
Good oral health can be an important factor in getting a job and feeling comfortable out in the world, said Robin Miller, the oral health director at the Vermont Health Department. Low-income people face barriers in getting regular dental care.
"When it comes to oral health care in Vermont, the higher your socioeconomic status, is the better off you are in terms of access to dental care," she said. "And for a lot of people, reliable transportation is an issue, time off from work to get to an appointment is an issue, length of distance to a provider is an issue. So all these other things come into play."
Before the center opened, Windham County was a black hole in the push to get dental care to low-income residents, she told VPR.