Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation has announced it will provide $3.5 million in funding over three years to 31 Colorado nonprofit organizations to support projects that create accessible oral health care and advance oral health equity. Among them are two local nonprofits, Clinica Family Health and Dental Aid.
Both recipients recognize “there is more than enough unmet dental need to go around in Boulder and Broomfield counties, especially care that is culturally competent and patient-centered, both of which they provide to high-need, lower-income populations experiencing significant health disparities,” said Delta Senior Program Officer Marybeth Goodwin.
For over 20 years, the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation has been partnering with nonprofit organizations to fund programming that advances oral health. Over the past two years, the foundation has awarded $6.9 million in oral health-focused grants to Colorado communities.
Dental Aid, which opened in 1980 as the first not-for-profit dental clinic in Colorado, has locations in Boulder, Longmont and Louisville. The clinic provides oral health care at about half the usual fees charged by private dentists in the area.
“When I talk about it to people, it sounds like dentistry for the poor. But I feel like I’m getting deluxe treatment here,” said Nicole Bordat, who has been a Dental Aid patient since 2002.
“I think life gets you to a place financially, but that doesn’t mean that you have to succumb to the cliche,” she continued.
Dental Aid serves people at high risk for oral health complications, such as pregnant women and patients with diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. The clinic’s executive director, Ernest Duff, estimated that Dental Aid served over 1,300 students in the Boulder Valley School District in 2019, as well as over 300 adults at risk in remote community sites.
“The blessing of this grant is that it’s general operating money, which gives us flexibility as to how we use it,” Duff said.
He added Dental Aid will focus particularly on adults over 65, as some people lose dental insurance benefits after retirement.
Anne Mannering, who belongs to that age group, said she doesn’t remember when she first started going to Dental Aid, but she remembers what it was like before she found out about the clinic.
“It was always a struggle. I was always going from here to there, wherever I could get some care. Sometimes people did it for less or for free, or sometimes Aging Services helped,” she said.
“It’s just not the sort of thing that low-income people can save up for or prepare for. It’s not something you can handle well on a small income, so you just don’t get the care. As with many things for low-income people, it takes an immense amount of effort.”
Clinica Family Health started in 1977 as a grassroots effort to provide medical services for migrant farm workers in Boulder County. The clinic started its dental program in 2002.
An Nguyen, Clinica’s vice-president of dental services, has been with the clinic for over nine years. Nguyen, who had worked at two other community health centers before arriving at Clinica, calls the clinic “the gold standard for community health centers.”
Clinica is a nationally recognized clinic with more than 640 employees, six community-based medical clinics and three dental clinics serving more than 58,000 patients a year from south Boulder, Broomfield and west Adams counties. The clinic accepts patients regardless of their situations.
“I’ve been a patient at Clinica with no insurance, with insurance, under Medicare, with discount plans. It doesn’t matter. They say, ‘you need medical attention so we are here for you,’” said Heidy Ordonez, who has been going to the clinic for nearly 20 years.
The new funding cycle will be the third time Clinica has received grants from Delta. The last grant it received was designed to support the innovation work the clinic was doing around advancing quality in dentistry.
Nguyen said this time the funds will allow the clinic to “invest in the infrastructure that allows them to provide and grow access for our patients to dental services.”