New nonprofit dental service in Duluth breaks ground

A new project in downtown Duluth is set to provide thousands of patients with dental services every year.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 4:13 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - A new project in downtown Duluth is set to provide thousands of patients with dental services every year.

The new Children’s Dental Services oral health hub in downtown Duluth is projected to serve 20,000 patients every year.

This will include many children from low-income families that otherwise have difficulties accessing care.

More than 20 organizations came together to address a need for dental services in northeastern Minnesota.

The Department of Health designates Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas for St. Louis, Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, and Pine counties.

In northeastern Minnesota counties, 15% of children live in poverty, higher than the statewide average.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that children from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities as children from higher-income families.

“This new dental hub will provide services in an area that faces significant barriers to care, including some of the highest poverty, unemployment, and chemical dependency rates in the state, and a long-standing lack of services for Native American communities,” said Sarah Wovcha, Executive Director, Children’s Dental Services. “These factors, along with remote living conditions and limited provider and transportation options, have resulted in severe regional needs that this clinic aims to address.”

Children with tooth decay and oral disease can experience significant pain, affecting their self-esteem, ability to eat, speak, sleep, and succeed in school.

“Given how much dental care impacts our overall health, all children must have access to dental services,” said Dr. Mary Owen, Associate Dean of Native American Health and Director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth. “Children’s Dental Services’ Northeast Minnesota Dental Hub is serving a critical need in Duluth and surrounding areas by ensuring dental health services are available for all children, whether rich or poor.”

Officials say dental-related illnesses cost American children approximately 51 million lost school hours per year.

“We don’t want students sitting in class embarrassed about their teeth or feeling pain,” says John Magas, Duluth Public Schools Superintendent. “We want them there, ready to learn with smiles on their faces, and we’re so excited about what this means.”

On Monday, Mayor Emily Larson officiated a groundbreaking celebration of the dental hub located at 25 West Superior Street.

“As Mayor of Duluth, I see an urgent need for essential dental resources in our community,” said Emily Larson, Mayor of Duluth. “Children’s Dental Services’ establishment of a nonprofit dental clinic at 25 W. Superior Street in downtown Duluth will not only expand access to care for our most vulnerable citizens but will simultaneously revitalize a portion of the Duluth Commercial Historic District. I am delighted to welcome this vibrant new dental hub and look forward to the revitalization and health resources Children’s Dental Services’ project brings to our community!”

“This is exactly the type of project that our Esther Tomljanovich Strategic Initiative Grant is meant to address, it meets a significant health need in the community and will have an impact on the region it serves for years to come. We have a long-standing relationship with Children’s Dental Services, which makes it all the more special to be part of this collaboration,” said JoAnn Birkholz, Executive Director, of Medica Foundation.

The new Children’s Dental Services oral health hub is set to open in the first quarter of 2024.

Staff will include a telehealth consultant, dental hygienists, dental therapists, and community health workers.

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