Access to dental care is improving for Vermonters. In Franklin County, for example, there are two federally qualified dental clinics: one in Richford and another just steps away from Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School (MVU) in Swanton. These dental clinics, which offer treatment on a sliding scale -- regardless of ability to pay -- are making a tremendous difference in the lives of Vermonters. In response to the heavy demand for dental services, expansion plans at the dental clinic at Missisquoi Valley Union are under way.
Pam Parsons and Marcia Perry, left to right, of the Northern Tier Center for Health said demand is growing for dental care at their two Franklin County dental clinics.
“We didn’t have any idea it would be this successful at all,” said Marcia Perry, who serves as the board president of the Northern Tier Center for Health, which runs the dental clinic. “I think this is quite remarkable. We are meeting a demand.”
Across Vermont, Federally Qualified Health Centers have 12 dental practice sites with a total of 64 dental chairs. Vermont’s Federally Qualified Health Centers served more than 22,000 dental patients with nearly 60,000 visits in 2011. In Franklin County, the Northern Tier Center for Health, known as NOTCH, runs two dental clinics. NOTCH’s dental clinic at Missisquoi Valley Union is just one of a handful of schools in Vermont that have a facility on site, helping ensure students have access to good dental health.
When NOTCH’s two-chair dental clinic at the Swanton high school opened in September 2010 it was open just two days a week. Within a year, demand quickly forced that to increase to five days a week. Once again, the dental clinic needs more capacity.
The dental clinic, located between the parking lot and Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School’s classrooms, is conveniently located for students. Dental work can be scheduled either before school, after school, or students can be excused from class to have their cleanings during the school day.
“You get them in door and you get them on a plan. That’s a big hurdle,” said Pam Parsons, the executive director of NOTCH. “We have good dentists and we give them good care.”
“I loved their teaching along with their care -- which is really half of dental care, knowing how to take care of your teeth,” said Nicole Gervais, a St. Albans-based pediatric nurse who is familiar with the dental clinic at MVU and has nearly five decades of experience.
Gervais said the dental clinic is “very beneficial to the health of the students and the whole community.”
Oral health problems are largely preventable, can have a significant impact on overall health and can increase the risk for many health conditions. Improving access to dental care improves overall health and keeps people out of emergency rooms. In 2009, for example, nearly 7,000 Vermonters visited the emergency room due dental related emergencies. More accessible, affordable options for dental care throughout the state will help to reduce this number.
Penny Hakey, a hygienist at NOTCH’s dental clinic at Missisquoi Valley Union, is confident if they expanded, they could accommodate the dental needs of more students. Right now, they can handle no more than 16 to 20 visits a day.
“If we had more chairs, we could accommodate more patients,” she said.