Dr. Charles Abbick (left) and lead dental assistant Felisha McManus fit a dental crown on Tracie Linzenmeyer. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos


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Caring about health

By GARY DEMUTH Salina Journal

Tracie Linzenmeyer was stuck with a mouthful of rotten teeth because she couldn’t afford to have them pulled.

Medicaid would pay for the stay-at-home Salina mom to get her teeth cleaned, but because of the cost, it wouldn’t pay for such dental services as root canals, crowns, deep-cleaning or tooth removal — all of which Linzenmeyer needed.

“My teeth have gotten so bad that they have to be pulled, but I can’t get them pulled because I can’t afford it,” she said during a recent visit to get her teeth deep cleaned at the Salina Family Healthcare Center dental clinic.

Linzenmeyer discovered the clinic would provide these kind of dental services for anyone who walked through the doors, whether the patient was insured, uninsured or underinsured. Through a sliding fee based on income, she now will be able to pay what she can afford while still getting the dental work she needs.

“They’re awesome,” she said of the clinic.

Linzenmeyer first visited the dental clinic at its original location at 625 E. North. That clinic, which opened in December 2005, was closed when a new clinic opened Aug. 16 in the renovated lower level of Salina Family Healthcare Center, 651 E. Prescott, in the former YWCA building.

Like the upstairs medical center, the downstairs dental clinic caters to lower-income patients and their families who may have little or no insurance — although patients of any income level are welcome, said Dr. Robert Freelove, chief executive officer of Salina Family Healthcare Center and program director of the Smoky Hill Family Medicine Residency Program.

“We’ll see anyone, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said. “They can have full coverage or no coverage and can still come in.”

Stimulus funding

The new dental clinic, which takes up about a quarter of the downstairs area, has 10 dental chairs in 10 rooms, two full-time dentists, two dental hygienists and five dental assistants.

There also are offices, a dental laboratory and a front desk area/waiting room.

A $480,000 grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a government economic stimulus program, financed about 85 percent of renovation costs for the dental clinic, Freelove said.

Total-body care

Freelove hopes the new dental clinic will better serve patients by having both medical and dental services in a single location.

“We want to provide integrated, total-body care here,” he said. “We want people to be able to get these services in one place.”

For example, he said, a child who comes to the center can have their school immunizations done upstairs and then be taken downstairs for a teeth cleaning or fluoride varnish.

“They could get all these services in one visit,” Freelove said.

Freelove said he also hopes the new dental clinic will remind adult visitors about the importance of oral hygiene and to not delay dental care.

“If people have chest pains, they get help right away, but I don’t think a lot of people understand the importance of oral health,” Freelove said. “People put off dental work because they don’t feel its immediate impact and ignore it until it’s too late.”

About 500 patients a month

The word must be getting out: the number of patients has increased about 30 percent during the past eight months, Freelove said, averaging about 500 visitors a month.

Of those visitors, he said, about 38 percent are underinsured through Medicaid and another 38 percent are totally uninsured.

“The demand is there,” he said. “Our goal is to get people comfortable coming to the dentist. If you can get them in a safe environment when they come here, it sets the stage for them to be better about their oral health for the rest of their lives.”

Want to help people

Dr. Charles Abbick, a dentist who moved to Salina a year ago from Junction City to work at the clinic, said the new dental clinic fulfills a great need.

“My dad’s a dentist, too, and most people who get into this job want to help people,” he said. “It’s fulfilling to fill this need. Some people come here with teeth in very poor condition. I try to save them as much as possible, but sometimes we can’t.”

The dental clinic has been invaluable for clients of Cindy Klein, a service provider for adults with disabilities at Angel Square, 122 N. Santa Fe.

Klein said many of her clients have minimum-wage jobs with little or no health or dental insurance.

“They’re all on Social Security, and all they have is their Medicaid cards,” said Klein, who often accompanies her clients to medical and other appointments in Salina. “They couldn’t get any dental care before this opened, and this is something they can afford.”

Grateful for the aid

Dental hygienist Christina Cook, who has been working at the dental clinic for seven months, said many uninsured and lower-income patients are grateful for the treatment.

“They make a point to say thank you when they leave,” she said. “It’s rewarding to treat them well. I don’t think they get that in a lot of places.”

Cook said it’s satisfying to help change the quality of people’s lives by improving their teeth.

“Having a fake tooth is like having a fake leg — you don’t want it if you can help it,” she said. “Some people have had no dental history in the last twenty years, and I think they’re surprised they can save their teeth.”

nReporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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