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Mobile Dental Care for People with Disabilities Could be Sidelined

April 20, 2009

Jefferson City, MO - 2,000 people in need may be loosing their dental care after a state agency's decision to reduce primary funding to the charitable program. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has cut its support by two-thirds to the Elks Mobile Dental Program, which, for nearly 40 years, has driven self-contained dental vans to mostly rural areas, providing free oral health care to people with developmental disabilities and other special needs.

Vicki McCarrell sees patients with disabilities in mid-Missouri. She's worried about what people will face if they have to go without care.

"Dental problems, oral health problems can lead to strokes, they can lead to heart problems."

The scope of the problem of access to affordable dental care goes beyond state funding, says McCarrell, who points to a lack of specialized dentists for people with disabilities. Advocates are promoting an initiative to offer dentists incentives to be trained to treat patients with special needs. Patients with disabilities often need special equipment because of their oral sensitivity and fear of the dentist.

Cathy Brown, program specialist for the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities, says the beauty of the mobile dental program is that it brings specialized dentists to even the most remote areas of the state.

"If you live in a very rural area where you can't get access to any other dental care, then you'll have no options if the Elks Dental Mobile Unit isn't coming anymore."

Without the support from the state, the Missouri Elks Association has only enough money to operate one of its three mobile units, which serves about 1,000 people with developmental disabilities. It's estimated an additional 2,000 people with disabilities will be left out if the charity is forced to park the other two.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO