Affinia Mobile Dental Clinic To 'Fill The Gap' In North St. Louis County
A community health center in St. Louis is working to reach more patients in north county through its traveling dental clinic.
Using federal CARES Act funding, Affinia Healthcare will offer reduced-cost dental care more frequently to low-income patients — many of whom are uninsured and living below the federal poverty level.
The mobile clinic will travel to “wherever the need exists” in north St. Louis County, including neighborhood homeless shelters, said Alan Freeman, president and CEO of Affinia Healthcare.
“Our mission in the communities is to help provide services to people regardless of their ability to pay,” Freeman said, adding that they’re working to “fill the gap” in underserved areas where it’s harder to access health care.
As part of a network of federally qualified health centers, Affinia Healthcare charges for services on a sliding fee scale, based on household income.
The traveling clinic, which has operated for about five years out of a customized RV, offers routine dental care, including cleanings, cavity fillings and simple tooth extractions.
St. Louis County awarded $355,186 in grant funding to Affinia to help expand its mobile dental program and telehealth offerings.
Based on stakeholder meetings this summer with north county residents, lack of access to dental care emerged as a “very explicit priority in the community,” said Spring Schmidt, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
“There are very few dental services available in our community areas, and many that do provide services don't always provide them to the uninsured,” Schmidt said.
Dental care can be expensive — and patients without private insurance may end up putting off routine visits for months or years. An estimated 56,073 Missouri residents visited the emergency room for dental-related issues in 2014, at a cost of more than $16.8 million.
The pandemic has exacerbated these issues, Schmidt said, and placed an additional burden on communities where it’s difficult to access health care.
“Access to care is not just, ‘Is there a clinic physically present in the community?’" Schmidt said. “It can also be, ‘Can I afford to get there? Is it open at a time when I'm capable of being there? Can I get there on public transportation?’ And beyond that, ‘Is it from a provider that I feel comfortable with, that respects me and values me?’”
For more information on the mobile dental clinic, call Yvonne Buhlinger at 314-814-8507.
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