Colorado clinics combine doctor, dentist in one location

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Sometimes it feels like a parent's job is taxi driver, shuttling kids from one appointment to the next.  But what if you could combine appointments -- such as doctor and dental -- into one?

That's the idea behind a five-year project to integrate dental hygienists into 15 Colorado medical practices.

At St. Anthony North Health Campus, everything looked normal about Elena Thomas' 18-month checkup until the very end, when she and her mother, Shawn Thomas, walked out of the doctor's office and down the hall to the next appointment with the dental hygienist.

“It’s just so easy. You don’t have to go anywhere else. He’s right here. It’s just so convenient,” said Thomas.

In 2015, Delta Dental of Colorado launched the Colorado Medical-Dental Integration (CO MDI) Project, the first in the U.S. to provide dental hygiene services in medical practices,

"I do teeth cleanings. I do X-rays, exams, sealants and fluorides," said Terrill Graden, a dental hygienist who can then refer children to a dentist if there are any oral health concerns.

The idea is to expand access to dental care in Colorado, where one in seven children will have untreated cavities by the time they reach kindergarten.

"Cavities is the number one childhood disease," said Lisa Konen, with the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation. "Cavities are one of the top reasons children miss school and visit emergency rooms."

Konen said many parents won't miss a doctor's visit or vaccination, but they will skip the dentist, even though cavities can spread from baby teeth to adult.

"It’s hard for a working family, a working mother, to get their kids into those practices," said Konen. "It’s just one extra appointment, and so sometimes, that’s the one that they will leave off."

The project has been so successful that the foundation is expanding, especially to rural areas, so-called "dental deserts," where access to oral health care is limited.

"In Colorado, we will be releasing funding for more clinics to be able to adopt this practice. As well, it’s becoming a national model and other states are going to adopt it," said Konen.

And for busy moms, like Thomas, it's a no-brainer, killing two birds with one stone to give her daughter a healthy start.

"It's just one less place you have to go," she said. "It's really important. I don't want her to have any cavities."

Since this project started in 2015, they have seen more than 30,000 patients.

For a full list of the Colorado Medical-Dental Integration Project grantees, click here.

To see the clinics currently offering services, click here.

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