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Sen. Durbin meets with ADA, state and local representatives for a round-table discussion

August 08, 2014

By Stacie Crozier

Image of Senator Durbin and Dr. Lisa Kearney
Dental clinic tour: Sen. Dick Durbin, left, asks Dr. Lisa Kearney, dental director, right, a question during his tour of Erie Family Health Center's Evanston, Illinois, dental clinic.
Evanston, Ill. —
From the Affordable Care Act and community water fluoridation to dental student debt and Mission of Mercy events, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin asked experts about a wide range of issues affecting dental care for Illinois citizens during an hour-long round-table discussion Aug. 5 at Erie Family Health Center in Evanston.

Representatives from the ADA, the Illinois State Dental Association, the Chicago Dental Society, local elected officials from Evanston, the Illinois Primary Healthcare Association and Erie Family Health Center gathered to offer the senator a tour of Erie's Evanston dental clinic and answer his questions on a variety of topics.

Sen. Durbin's visit began with a tour of the health center dental clinic, where Erie staff showcased the comprehensive range of oral health services available; the impact of Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and private insurance funding for patients in all of its clinics and use electronic health records.

image of Jenna Linden
Jenna Linden, a Community Dental Health Coordinator and dental hygienist in Appleton, Wisconsin, tells Sen. Durbin how CDHCs provide patients in their communities with dental health education and help them access needed care.
"How does the quality of care here compare to a private dental office?" Sen. Durbin asked Dr. Lisa Kearney, the clinic's dental director.

"I feel like there is a misconception that if you visit a community health center, it will be a dark, dingy place in a basement with outdated equipment, where patients may not receive optimal care," said Dr. Kearney. "In reality, community health centers like Erie Family Health Center are modern and light offices with state-of-the art equipment where patients can receive the highest quality health care."

The senator followed up Dr. Kearney's answer by asking if the clinic had any trouble recruiting and retaining dentists because of income differences between working in an FQHC and a private dental practice.

Dr. Kearney also noted that many dental students graduate with student loan debt that is sometimes $200,000 or more, and making a long term commitment to working at a health center can make them eligible for loan forgiveness that reduces their debt.

When Sen. Durbin quizzed the group on solutions to reduce emergency room dental visits, Dr. Jane Grover, director of the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations introduced him to the ADA's Action for Dental Health movement and how states and communities nationwide are successfully implementing programs and strategies to lower ER visits and integrate more patients into dental homes.

"There are several kinds of successful ER referral models that are showing results in treating patients who have gone to the emergency room and were referred to dental offices to have the emergency issue resolved," Dr. Grover said. "As a result, many of these patients have found a dental home and have not needed to go back to an ER."

Sen. Durbin told the group that health centers like Erie are essential to providing good dental care and can play an important role in reducing instances of prescription pain medicine abuse that can occur as a result of patients going to an emergency room requesting prescription pain medication for dental pain.

Sen. Durbin also met Jenna Linden, a Community Dental Health Coordinator and dental hygienist who works in Appleton, Wisconsin. Ms. Linden has also completed CDHC sabbaticals in Vermont and Florida. She explained her role in her community as a dental health educator for patients and families, a coordinator to help patients find and access dental care services and a clinical provider of limited preventive care services, including application of fluoride varnish and sealants.

"I was privileged to share my experiences as a CDHC with Sen. Durbin," Ms. Linden said, "considering that I have witnessed first hand the vital role a CDHC can play in increasing access to dental care and education among underserved populations."

The round-table group also answered the senator's questions about the number of dentists in the state, number of dental students graduating versus the number of dentists retiring, dental student debt, dental education for schoolchildren and families, community water fluoridation and Mission of Mercy events.

The National Association of Community Health Centers also presented Sen. Durbin with the 2014 Distinguished Community Health; Leadership Award during his visit.