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Bringing more smiles to youth: Partnership looks to improve dental services

Northern Dental Access Center hygienist Daidrie Promersberger exams and cleans the teeth of Caytlyn Isham on Tuesday afternoon. Northern Dental has portable equipment that it regularly brings to Evergreen to provide preventive dental care to youth through its commnity-based oral health program. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- A partnership between the Northern Dental Access Center and Evergreen Youth and Family Services is resulting in increased dental services for local youth.

Northern Dental regularly brings portable equipment to Evergreen's youth services site along Patriot Drive in Bemidji. There, a hygienist and coordinator provide screenings and cleanings and refer patients to the clinic for operative care if found necessary.

"A lot of kids, especially the teens that we see out in the field ... they're in situations where it doesn't seem as important to them to get that preventive dental care because they have a lot more stuff that they need to be concerned about on a day-to-day basis," said Erin Messer, project coordinator for Northern Dental's community-based oral health program. "That's why us coming in and helping them to see that, yes, it is important for them is a good service for us to provide."

The work both fits within Northern Dental's outreach team, which regularly visits 27-30 sites throughout northwest Minnesota such as schools and clinics, and Evergreen, which aims to serve youth in need and to connect youth with other available services.

"It's working out well because it's a lot easier for us to refer our kids for onsite services here and then have them be willing to do the follow-up services at Northern Dental once they've had a good experience than it is for us to have them go (straight) to Northern Dental," said Becky Schueller, executive director of Evergreen.

Northern Dental is a nonprofit that provides dental services to those who are low-income or underinsured.

It launched its community-based oral health program in 2011 with two or three sites and has seen those numbers increase tenfold, Messer said.

The partnership with Evergreen has been in place since February.

"Our partnership has been going really well so we are going to continue to offer these services to Evergreen," Messer said.

She estimated that about 75 percent of the youth seen throughout Northern Dental's outreach programs are referred back to the clinic for more work.

"It's pretty high," Messer said. "We can't diagnose anything when we're out in the field so we're really just giving them an idea as to whether they need to come in soon or immediately, or if they can wait."

Evergreen relocated to its new site at the end of 2012, providing a centralized location for much of its programming, including its youth drop-in center and several transitional-housing units.

At the site, teens have access not just to Evergreen's services but also to information and applications for housing, employment, education, benefits and more.

On the first Tuesday of the month, Evergreen also hosts nonprofits and professionals that are there to help youth or to connect with them to share information about the resources they provide.

"Transportation is such a challenge in this area that it works better when we can start kids out with onsite services," Schueller said. "That's kind of what this new site was designed for, to be one-stop shopping for youth services."

Caytlyn Isham, 19, and her sister share a room in a quad on site as Evergreen is providing them temporary housing this summer. Caytlyn just finished her first year of college at BSU -- while also working two part-time jobs -- and both she and her sister are moving to the Twin Cities in August as Caytlyn prepares to enter the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

The pair do have bicycles, but their ability to travel is dependent on the weather.

"Transportation is an issue," said Caytlyn, one of the patients seen Tuesday by Northern Dental at Evergreen as the clinic set up its mobile unit in the Evergreen conference room.

Caytlyn had her teeth cleaned and talked with the professionals about oral hygiene, getting referred to the clinic not for operative care but for an updated set of x-rays.

She said she was "very thankful" for the opportunity to access such services on site.

"We provide a lot of health services to kids," Schueller said. "Our goal is to get them access to health care services, whether it is medical, dental or mental health."