Tooth Fairy comes for Cook County Seniors Feb 2022

For more than a decade, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic’s Oral Health Task Force (OHTF) has helped Cook County parents get the dental care their children need. Its efforts at education and funding assistance for teeth cleaning and care have brought cavities and other dental problems in children to the lowest level of any county in Minnesota.

With its new Senior Oral Health Care Program, OHTF is reaching out to the county’s population of seniors, many of whom may be in desperate need of dental care. In conjunction with Grand Marais Family Dentistry, the OHTF program is targeted at uninsured and underinsured seniors.

Bonnie Dalin, Task Force Hygienist at OHTF says that poor oral hygiene can lead to more serious health issues. “It can lead to or make worse things like pneumonia, heart disease, and diabetes,” she said.

Dalin, a practicing dental hygienist in the Twin Cities, moved to Cook County five years ago at the urging of her father who lives in Colvill. He mentioned that Grand Marais Dentistry was seeking a hygienist so Dalin and her family came up for a visit, fell in love with the area, and she was hired at the dentistry.

Some seniors are financially able to purchase so-called Medicare Advantage insurance that might include eye care and dental care or pay for care “out of pocket.” Many others are covered by Part A and B (basic) Medicare for general health care, and that does not include most dental procedures.

There is a popular but false belief that Medicare is “free” insurance. In fact, Medicare beneficiaries pay an annual premium, deducted from Social Security each month, in the amount of $148.50 per person. There is also a deductible and co-pay. For many on a fixed income, the additional premium to get dental insurance in the Advantage Plan or pay full price for services is a cost too high.

Neglecting dental care, which many seniors are forced to do because of the cost, can lead to a diminished quality of life and adverse health effects for seniors. The OHTF program steps in to help seniors get the care they need at an affordable cost.

The program establishes an income eligibility cap based on family size. For example, the income cap for a married couple is $94,150. If a couple’s income falls under the cap they may get dental treatment at Grand Marais Family Dentistry for just 10% of the original cost of care. Still a challenge for those on a fixed income, but much more manageable than paying 100%.

Dalin says that in the initial stages the program provides coverage for routine cleaning procedures and minor restorative care such as fillings and extractions. “I’m pretty excited about this program for seniors,” Dalin said. “I hope eventually to extend the program to residents of the Care Center.”

Financial support for the Oral Health Task Force is provided by:

Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Outreach Division

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative

Cook County Community Fund

Cook County Public Health and Human Services Community Funding

Cook County Whole Foods Coop

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation