When Colorado enacted a stay-at-home order in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disruption to daily life was swift and unquestionable. Even something as routine as daily toothbrushing fell by the wayside for many.
That lapse in habit concerns Lisa Reusser, outgoing executive director of Dental Aid. The nonprofit organization, which has been providing low-cost dental care to Coloradans for more than 45 years, was forced to close last year like other businesses in the state and, since reopening, hasn’t seen as many people returning to take care of their oral health as she knows need to.
That includes folks who may have been putting off a range of services, from teeth cleaning to fillings to surgery, because of apprehension about COVID-19.
And more than 70% of dentists surveyed by the American Dental Association this spring reported seeing patients experiencing conditions associated with stress such as teeth grinding and clenching, due in no small part to the pandemic.
Still, Dental Aid saw about 5,000 patients, including 1,500 children, in 2020, according to Reusser.
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Uriel Pacheco, left, lead dental assistant at Dental Aid, talks with Ana Ruiz, right, about dental check-ups for her kids Brandon Cruz, 5, left, and Hector, 6 second from right, as Ana buckles her 6-month-old son Braydon into his carrier at Dental Aid in Lousiville on Oct. 12, 2021.
Address: Locations at 4155 Darley Ave., Boulder, CO 80305; 1715 Princess Drive, Longmont, CO 80501; 877 East South Boulder Road, Louisville, CO 80027
In operation since: 1974
Number of employees: 32
Annual budget: $2.5-$2.6 million
Percentage that goes directly to client services: 85%
Number of clients served in 2020: 5,000
“Our need for community support and awareness is really at a critical moment because we know once things start getting back to normal, we’re going to see an influx of people who have more severe dental needs because they’ve been locked up,” she said. “I know I probably ate more sugar than I needed to cope.”
Founded in 1974, Dental Aid began as a referral organization that connected residents in low-income housing with dentistry providers. In 1980, it opened its first clinic in Boulder and has since expanded to Longmont and Louisville.
The company now employs 32 employees including dentists, hygienists, an oral surgeon and a pediatrics specialist, plus administrative, leadership and support staff.
Dental Aid provides the aforementioned services and more at discounted rates to ensure residents can get the care they need. The organization accepts Medicare and Medicaid and also offers financial assistance to those who qualify.
Dental Aid’s mission goes beyond what happens in the dentist’s chair. The organization focuses on educating members of the community, especially kids, to instill good oral hygiene practices that lead to a more healthful life. “Dental health is part of overall health,” as Reusser likes to say, because whatever goes in the mouth inevitably affects other parts of the body.
“Starting that at a young age is really what we’d like to educate people about doing. We see a lot of little kids who come in and they just got their full set of teeth and they’re already requiring fillings,” she said. “This can be prevented. We don’t want you to have your first filling until you’re an adult, preferably. So just doing a good job on educating mom and the kids to make it a fun thing. Make it a family thing. Maybe even get a pet involved.”
Donations to Dental Aid support education and early intervention programs, as well as subsidies for locals who can’t afford the care they need. In 2021, Dental Aid anticipates subsidizing services for up to 560 children.