As Delta Dental Van numbers increase, Lake Area program could provide more services

The Delta Dental Bus has completed its annual visits to Watertown, and the service broke prior records of youth seen and the dental care given.

It's clear there's a need for more local dental services. And Lake Area Technical College hopes to be able to fill that gap in the years to come.

The Delta Dental Mobile Program provides care for youth from infancy to 21 at no cost. The traveling bus offers a full range of services, including exams, cleanings, preventative treatments and cavity fillings. Insurance is not required. Orthodontic work is not provided.

The bus visits Watertown twice a year and is hosted by two separate organizations. The United Way hosts a week in the summer, and Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership covers the fall session, which ended Sept. 23.

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June visit breaks previous records

In June, the bus saw 106 youth and provided families with $91,904 worth of dental work free of charge, according to the United Way.

In recent history, summer visits to the Delta Dental Bus have averaged around 50 youth. But last year the number of youth seen increase to 90 with $77,908 worth of dental cleanings and work. Before 2021, the average cost of dental care performed on the bus was closer to $30,000, according to the United Way.

This year, the bus moved from its traditional location at the alternative school to the library for its spring visit.

Laura Hoiten is the new executive director at Watertown Area United Way and is excited about the new location and the partnership with the library.

“I think we saw larger numbers because we moved to a more visible location,” said Hoiten. “The school was a great spot and a great fit. But the library is a better location with the public coming and going.”

The change resulted in an increase in walk-in traffic, and Hoiten said that there were more parents looking for an opportunity to fill canceled appointments or be on the list for next year. The visibility helped spread the word about the Delta Dental Bus and encouraged those visiting the bus to check out the resources available at the library, she said.

Fall numbers also show an increase in dental care needs

In fall, the bus parks at Lake Area Technical College. That visit also saw an increase this year, with 41 youth served and $45,533 worth of dental work provided. More than $21,000 was for restorative procedures, including cavity fillings, crowns and extractions, according to Inter-Lakes.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the number of juveniles seen, dropping the number to about 30 the past couple of years when it used to be closer to 50. Now, the number of visits in on the uptick.

The stop at Lake Area provides an opportunity for students to tour the bus and learn how it provides education and preventive dental care. It also helps foster the future of dental care by providing training to students in dentistry.

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“This year, they had a dental student from the University of South Dakota who will be a dentist (who helped on the bus). She was getting some training,” said Kathy Dargatz of Inter-Lakes.

She said some Lake Area students visited the bus for dental care last month.

Lake Area has hopes of opening a dental clinic on campus

Considering the demand for care, Lake Area's dental assistant program could provide additional, affordable dental services to the area while educating students.

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Dental assistant instructor Nicole Pahl said she hopes to have adequate space on campus and the funds needed to create a clinic that will provide dental care on a sliding-fee scale.

“We would like to help. We know there is a huge need,” said Pahl.

With the campus undergoing a major expansion, the dental assistant program will also receive updates, though they are not expected for a few years. Pahl wants to see a clinic become part of the updates planned for the program.

“Kids can be seen on the bus and they can see kids here in town, but there are not many places for adults to go (who) do not have dental insurance or are on Medicaid. We would like to meet that need at some point,” she said.

Many dental schools across the nation have clinics on campus where they see community members. Pahl said she is hopeful that Watertown will be able to provide that service and allow students to get hands-on training.

“We could use more dental assistants. We would like to train more people to meet this growing need in the state,” she said.

This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Lake Area to seek on-campus clinic as demand for dental care increases