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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – In 2011, Rhode Island’s community health centers treated 43,000 adults and children, providing nearly 120,000 dental visits and preventive services to low-income residents, according to a new fact sheet released on May 31 by the Rhode Island Health Center Association.
The dental care, provided by nine community health centers at 15 dental office locations across Rhode Island, represents a dramatic four-fold increase in capacity from 2003, when the community health centers provided fewer than 32,000 visits to fewer than 10,000 patients.
“Dental care is an integral part of overall health,” said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, co-chair of the R.I. Oral Health Commission. “Community health centers are a successful model for the integration of dental and medical care in one facility. Expanding their dental care capacity will increase access to these necessary services, and help keep Rhode Islanders healthy.”
The dental patients treated at community health centers include those enrolled in Medicaid programs such as RIte Care, uninsured Rhode Islanders, and some residents with private insurance. For children, 74 percent were Medicaid members, 19 percent were uninsured, and 7 percent had private insurance, according to figures for 2009 by the R.I. Oral Health Commission. For adults, 43 percent were enrolled in Medicaid programs, 44 percent were uninsured, and 11 percent had private insurance.
To help expand access to dental care, train dentists and recruit new dentists to Rhode Island, Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, in a partnership with Boston University’s Goldman School of Dentistry, dental students work at the community health center for 10-week rotations. The program opened in 2009; by the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, 28 students will have trained at the Pawtucket dental office.
“The expansion of dental care at the community health centers is a story of deliberate and well-planned increases in dental chairs and staff over a number of years,” said Jane Hayward, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Center Association.
Federal grants announced on May 1 include support for additional dental chairs, including four new chairs at the Thundermist Health Center in West Warwick.
The event on March 31 was held at Tri-Town Community Action Action in Johnston, which in 2010 opened the newest community health center dental office in the state.
Rhode Island’s community health centers include: Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Block Island Health Services, Comprehensive Community Action Program, East Bay Community Action Program, Providence Community Health Centers, Thundermist Health Center, Tri-Town Community Action Agency, WellOne Primary Medical and Dental Care, and Wood River Health Services.
A plan to cut $2.7 million in Medicaid dental services for adults that was part of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013 was rescinded by Chafee on May 17, as a result of better-than-expected state revenue forecasts.