The traditional process of accessing medical and dental care is fairly straightforward. Does your child need a well-child checkup? Find a pediatrician who accepts your insurance and schedule an appointment.

The traditional process of accessing medical and dental care is fairly straightforward. Does your child need a well-child checkup? Find a pediatrician who accepts your insurance and schedule an appointment. Need a dental cleaning or a cavity filled? Schedule a separate appointment with a dentist.

The mouth is the gateway to the health of the rest of the body, but many of our state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents struggle to access dental care. As a result, Colorado is facing a silent epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cavities, which are largely preventable, are the most common chronic illness among U.S. children.

The statistics are grim:

• One in seven Colorado kindergartners has untreated cavities. • Children without dental insurance or those insured by Medicaid have more than twice the rate of cavities as commercially/privately insured children. • According to the CDC, Hispanic children ages 2-8 have double the rate of untreated cavities (26 percent) as non-Hispanic white children (14 percent). • Eight of Colorado’s 64 counties are classified as dental deserts, meaning they do not have a dentist providing oral health services. Neighboring Crowley and Kiowa counties are two of those counties. In Otero County, only limited pediatric dental care is available.

Long-term implications of poor oral health include gum disease and tooth loss as well as less control of heart disease and diabetes.

Knowing these disparities exist and that oral health is an indicator of overall health, what options do those living in the Arkansas Valley have to receive the oral health care they need to succeed? One option is a project Valley-Wide Health Systems Inc. is implementing to provide preventive dental services during regular medical visits at our La Junta clinic.

We are able to offer these services through a grant from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF).

Through DDCOF’s Colorado Medical Dental Integration (CO MDI) Project, we have a registered dental hygienist, Charlene Pariera, who is an integrated member of the health care team. When children come in for a medical visit, they also receive an oral health screening. Charlene provides additional services including cleanings, fluoride varnish and sealants as well as education on healthy oral health habits to try at home. Children who do not have a dentist are referred to a community dentist. We also offer screenings and oral health education to expectant moms during prenatal visits.

CO MDI is the first project of its kind to integrate preventive dental services into medical practices. The intent is to expand access to oral health care. The project is especially beneficial for families who have limited access to dental care due to where they live, insurance issues (no insurance or certain types of insurance like Medicaid) or transportation barriers.

Integration of oral health into primary care medical settings has many benefits. It’s more convenient for families when medical and dental concerns can be addressed at the same time and at the same place. Preventive dental care also reduces the risk of more serious oral health conditions that are expensive to treat. In addition, our providers are able to work as a team to gain a better understanding of the full scope of needs Valley-Wide patients have.

CO MDI is featured as a promising model of delivering dental and medical care in the June 2016 issue of The Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice.

We’re seeing the project’s impact firsthand at Valley-Wide. More than 470 patients have received preventive dental care through CO MDI to date.

Whether it’s catching tooth decay before it turns into a large cavity or providing preventive dental services to an expectant mom to reduce the risk of pre-term labor, CO MDI is helping us create not just a medical home, but a whole health home for Arkansas Valley families.

Valley-Wide Health Systems provides primary health care services in Southern Colorado. In the lower Arkansas Valley, Valley-Wide operates primary care clinics in Rocky Ford, La Junta and Las Animas. Dental services are available at the Rocky Ford and Las Animas clinics. Valley-Wide’s Assistant Medical Director, Patrick Smith, M.D., works in partnership with Charlene Pariera, the CO MDI registered dental hygienist, to integrate dental care at the La Junta clinic. Learn more about Valley-Wide at