New dental clinic in Monroe to serve low-income patients

Low-income children have a far higher risk of getting cavities than those from more affluent families.

Without insurance, it’s difficult for these children to get routine care to prevent dental problems.

About 40 percent of preschool children in Head Start programs have cavities. By the time kids reach third grade, 58 percent have cavities, according to the state Department of Health.

In east Snohomish County, low-income families will soon get some help.

The nonprofit Sea Mar Community Health Centers plans to open a new dental center in Monroe early next year, with the capacity to serve up to 1,500 patients a year.

“We will begin with providing routine dental care for children and preventive dental care to infants,” said Dr. Alejandro Narvaez, Sea Mar’s director of dental services.

The clinic also will provide preventive and urgent care, such as repairing or replacing fillings, for pregnant women and adults.

The Monroe clinic will help fill a need in a part of the county where some families now have few options for getting dental care, said Dr. Marissa Bender, president of the Snohomish County Dental Society.

“Kudos to Sea Mar for doing that,” she said.

Transportation can be a barrier to low-income families getting dental care, she said. For families living in the Monroe area, “it’s great if they don’t have to travel to Everett or Lynnwood,” she said.

The Community Health Center of Snohomish County, another nonprofit organization, operates dental clinics in Everett, south Everett and Lynnwood.

Medical Teams International provides dental care to patients of the Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic, a nonprofit clinic near Everett Community College.

One measure of the need for dental care in the Skykomish Valley was documented at Monroe’s Valley General Hospital. So far this year, 176 patients came to the emergency room complaining of dental problems.

Sea Mar’s new dental clinic in Monroe will be housed in its existing medical clinic at 17707 W. Main St. The cost of remodeling and outfitting space is estimated to hit $250,000, Narvaez said.

Dental clinics are expensive to open, he said. The cost of just one piece of machinery, a X-ray machine that can take whole-mouth images, can total $28,000.

The clinic will be open to anyone but targets low-income and Medicaid patients, who have trouble getting dental care. Because Medicaid has low reimbursement rates for dental services, patients have problems finding dentists who will treat them.

Due to cutbacks in the state’s Medicaid program, most patients who get dental care are children. Adult Medicaid patients typically can only receive emergency dental care.

It’s harder for low-income and uninsured patients to get dental care than medical care, Bender said. “With medical, they have emergency rooms that are open 24/7,” she said. “In Snohomish County, I know there’s a great need.”

The Monroe office will be Sea Mar’s second dental clinic in Snohomish County. Its Marysville dental clinic opened in 2001.

The organization provides dental, medical and mental health services in offices throughout Western Washington.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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