WORTHINGTON — For four days a week, one week per month, staff from Minneapolis-based Children’s Dental Services drive their mobile dental clinic to Nobles and Rock counties to provide dental care to uninsured and underinsured individuals on Medical Assistance.

What they are reimbursed through Medical Assistance, however, is often less than 20% of a patient’s total bill, making the business non-sustainable without other funding sources.

On Tuesday, the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) presented a $9,101 check to the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council to fund CDS and its mobile clinic one day per month through 2021. The money targets care for individuals of all ages — not just those ages 0-26 and pregnant women, which CDS typically serves in rural communities.

During the four-day week, the staff spends one day in Rock County, serves children in Worthington’s Head Start program one day (HeadStart students are required to see a dentist to be in the program), and meets with other uninsured or underinsured individuals in Nobles County during the remaining two days.

“With an extra day, we can focus on the parents,” said Christy Jo Fogarty, an advanced dental therapist and registered dental hygienist with CDS. “We think of dental care as family care. Being able to do whole family care in this area is tremendous — from grandmas down to great-grandbabies.”

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CDS provides everything from examinations and teeth cleaning to fillings, extractions and crowns through its mobile dental lab, with the majority of its work being restorative care.

In the fall of 2019, CDS was invited by the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Clinic to provide dental services in Worthington thanks to a Childhood Oral Health grant it received from the Southwest Initiative Foundation. At that time, the mobile dental lab used space at the West Learning Center.

CDS provided community dental care one day per month in Worthington from September 2019 until the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. The mobile clinic was cleared to once again provide services last June, and that’s when it relocated its mobile lab to the Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) HeadStart building on 11th Street.

With the restorative dental work CDS provides, Fogarty said it's able to see between eight and 15 patients a day, with most scheduled for multiple appointments to complete the work. Initially, when they were doing primarily exams and fluoride treatments, they could see up to 25 patients per day.

CDS provides two staff people — a dental hygienist and a dental assistant — to do the work.

“We’re tremendously grateful we are able to provide this care down here,” Fogarty said.

SMOC and WRHCF are also grateful the mobile dental lab is available to help meet local needs for dental care. This is the first time the foundation has provided funding for the service.

“With the need we have here, we could have two full-time dentists,” said Terri Janssen, health services director for SMOC Family Planning. “This is like a Band-Aid until we can have a bigger solution.”

The availability of dental care for the uninsured and underinsured has long been a priority for Nobles County Public Health and Sanford, noted Janssen and Jeff Rotert, executive director of WRHCF.

“This has worked out really well,” Janssen added.

Additional funds for the mobile dental clinic have been provided this year by Worthington Noon Kiwanis, the Worthington Area Foundation (Southwest Initiative Foundation funds), United Way and #Luv1LuvAll. SMOC serves as the fiscal host.