AURORA – Dental hygienist Carolyn Anello has seen the extreme damage that bad oral hygiene can do, and that's why she does as much as she can to help people who may have never had a chance to go to a dentist office.
"It's dangerous. It can affect your whole body," Anello said. "Having this kind of bacteria in your mouth can affect your heart."
And in the nine months that she's worked at the Worthmore Clinic in Aurora, she's seen extreme cases of decay because about 20 percent of the people who sit in her dental chair have never had a dental visit. Many of Anello's patients at Worthmore Clinic are refugees who fled their home countries and got help from U.S. authorities to resettle in the U.S.
According to figures from the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services, about 50,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have legally relocated to Colorado in the past 35 years.
But refugees are not the only people who benefit from a new program by Delta Dental Colorado Foundation. The group has given $2.85 million to fund the Colorado Medical Dental Integration project which brings free dental services to existing medical clinics serving low-income and needy populations.
"We're working with 16 different medical clinics around the state bringing hygienists into those clinics," Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation Executive Director Barbara Springer said. "This is really a groundbreaking project because it's not being done anywhere else."
The funding is enough to provide the program for five years. Organizers hope it will gain momentum and last much longer than that. So does Oomg Kuhn, a refugee for Burma, who comes to the Worthmore Clinic and dental office.
"Very good, very convenient to our community," he said through a translator.
Anello, who co-founded the program by securing a $30,000 equipment donation from Cherry Hills Dental, has already seen it having an impact.
"We've seen patients come back for their re-care and have better oral hygiene and less disease," Anello said.
The $2.85 million in funding from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation will be granted in two phases. The funded organizations and clinics include:
- Denver Health – School-Based Health Centers (Denver)
- Doctors Care (Littleton)
- Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center Foundation (Buena Vista/Salida)
- Inner City Health Center (Denver)
- Maria Mattias in partnership with Rocky Mountain Youth Clinic – Aurora Clinic (Aurora)
- Metro Community Provider Network – South Aurora Family Health Services Center (Aurora)
- Summit Community Care Clinic – School Based Health Centers (Summit and Lake counties)
- Worthmore Dental Clinic in partnership with Ardas Family Medicine (Aurora)
- Centura Health – St. Anthony North (Westminster)
- Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (Denver)
- Denver Health – Eastside Connections for Kids Foster Care Clinic (Denver)
- Marillac Clinic - Mesa County Health Department Site (Grand Junction)
- Miramont Family Medicine – West Fort Collins Clinic (Fort Collins)
- Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association (Steamboat Springs/Craig)
- Peak Family Medicine (Montrose)
- Valley-Wide Health Systems – La Junta Clinic (La Junta)
(© 2015 KUSA)