Dental Center of Northwest Ohio opens additional dental clinic

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio contains its own dental lab, which is where lab technicians create dentures for their patients. This speeds up the process of making dentures.

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio, one of the oldest dental clinics treating underserved patients in the state, recently opened a new clinic in Van Wert. Over the years since the original clinic opened in Toledo in 1910, the center has expanded its reach to 18 counties through its motor coach and three clinic locations.

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio was started by a group of dentists from the Toledo Dental Society and other community volunteers who recognized a need for dental care for children from low income families. When the clinic opened in Toledo, it only saw children, but over the years the clinic added services for adults. Today, the center sees about half adults and half children, said Lindy Cree, Executive Director of the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio.

The center’s 40-foot motor coach, called the Smile Express, travels to counties in Northwest Ohio. It began traveling to Van Wert about seven years ago, and Cree said they noticed a huge need for dental care there, and also found that these patients had a low no-show rate and were very interested in accessing dental care.

About a year ago, the Van Wert County Hospital approached Cree about partnering with them to serve Medicaid and low- to moderate-income patients. Although the Smile Express was going to Van Wert twice a month, there was a greater need for care, Cree said. The hospital was able to gain space in a medical office building adjacent to the hospital and covered most of the cost to start the dental clinic, which opened in November. The clinic is now open three days a week using dentists who have worked at the Center in Toledo, and Cree said they are looking for a full-time dentist.

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio also has a clinic in Findlay, which opened in 2001.

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio treats patients living at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. They accept Medicaid and dental insurance, and those patients who do not have Medicaid or dental insurance are charged Medicaid reimbursement rates, and children younger than 19 only pay $25 per visit, regardless of the services provided.

“The dental center provides access to care to different demographics of patients, who without the dental center’s services would have nowhere else to have their dental needs addressed,” said Dr. Lauren Czerniak, a general dentist who works part-time at the dental center.

The dental center has two full-time dentists, but most of the dentists who work at the center do so part-time and also work in private practice. Dentists are able to treat Medicaid patients at the center without necessarily treating Medicaid patients in their own private practice because their Medicaid number is tied to the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio. The center then takes care of billing Medicaid. Cree said many dentists like being able to treat Medicaid patients at the center in order to help the access to care problem.

“I enjoy working in both private practice and at the Dental Center,” Czerniak said. “Both practice models allow for me to make a difference in the lives of others. The patients at the dental center are very appreciative of the care they receive, as some of these patients would have nowhere else to be treated if it weren’t for the dental center. Often times, we as dentists get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the private practice life and we lose sight of why it is we went into dentistry to begin with. Working at the Dental Center helps to remind me that my purpose as a dental health care provider is to do just that. In both offices, my goal is to provide excellent dental care, relieve pain, and improve the quality of life for everyone who walks through the front door. Although the practices are set up differently, the focus of what’s best for my patients is the most important thing.”

Cree said over the years, the clinic has begun to see an improvement in the oral health of their patients. She said the clinic has been holding a Give Kids A Smile Day event for many years, and when the event first started they saw many kids come through who needed a great deal of restorative treatment, but recently the children have had less complicated treatment needs.

Cree said a big part of this improvement has been because of the center’s focus on education. In 2005 the center received a grant to open a dental resource center, which is aimed at providing education and care management services to new moms. Cree said about three years into the program, the project director was walking through the clinic and saw a young mother who she had met in one of the first training sessions. The mother was there with her second child who had just gotten her first tooth.

“She came to the dentist because she knew it was important,” Cree said. “This woman learned the lesson, and it’s very rewarding to know that information sticks.”

Czerniak agreed that the center’s efforts to educate people about oral health are very important.

“Whether students, the elderly, young mothers, physicians, or other community health workers, the dental center teaches them about the importance of dental care, not smoking, and other oral health needs,” she said.

The dental center has had a strong relationship with the Toledo Dental Society throughout its history. The society has encouraged dentists to go on the Smile Express, and dentists also volunteer to treat patients through the Care Net program, which provides low cost or free services to people who are not eligible for Medicaid but cannot afford insurance.

“There is a very strong collaborative relationship between the Toledo Dental Society and the dental center,” Cree said. “We couldn’t do it without organized dentistry.”