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The City Journals

Midvale CBC Dental Clinic offers affordable, preventive dental care for families

May 02, 2019 02:13PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Clara Avellaneda, a volunteer dental hygienist, examines a toddler’s teeth at the Midvale CBC Dental Clinic. (Photo courtesy Midvale CBC)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

A dentist determines that a new patient needs to have five teeth extracted and decides that something needs to change to help prevent such drastic measures. 

That dentist in question is Dr. Floyd Tarbet. He volunteers at the Midvale Community Building Community (CBC) Dental Clinic which has provided rudimentary dental services — fillings and extractions — for several years. But after seeing this patient Tarbet knew it was time to start offering more preventative services such as regular cleanings.

Midvale CBC began in 1998 as a city initiative to provide education and other resources to residents in need. A need that quickly emerged was access to dental care. 

“[Dental health] is important for self-esteem and can lead to more productivity in the workforce. You’re not having your best shot at getting that job if you’re afraid to smile,” said Mauricio Agramont, executive director of Midvale CBC.

According to Agramont, another problem in the community is gum disease that causes bone loss, resulting in the loss of otherwise healthy teeth.

“When people can’t pay for basic dental exams, they delay treatment and put up with the pain. But then it gets too bad and we need to do extractions,” Agramont said.

Even residents who have Medicaid or some medical insurance often do not have dental benefits covered. But good dental health can prevent more serious health problems.

At first, Midvale CBC provided basic dental exams and made referrals. “But the clinics we referred residents to were overwhelmed,” said Agramont. “We decided that the best way to fill that void was to become a nonprofit and provide the services ourselves.”

At the same time, Tarbet, a longtime Midvale resident, was looking for places to volunteer. He met Walter Root, who had connected with Agramont and learned of the need for dental services. Together, they found a dental chair and set up a weekly makeshift clinic in the basement of the old Midvale City Hall.

When Tarbet’s son took over his private dental practice he had even more time to volunteer. “Walter bought a motor home, and we put the dental chair in there and parked it behind City Hall,” Tarbet said.

Midvale CBC became an independent nonprofit organization in 2012 and now occupies an entire building at 49 West Center Street.

“We have a unique model where the community center and medical center work together,” said Agramont. “We have residents come for the education courses and learn about the medical clinic or come to the medical clinic and learn about other services.”

The dental clinic has continued to grow thanks to donations and partnerships with local colleges and universities. Many treatments are now offered, including fillings, crowns, full dentures, root canals and an innovative procedure that uses lasers to treat gum disease. Dental hygienists from Salt Lake Community College take appointments at the clinic on Fridays.

The services are not free, but at 60 to 75 percent below market rate, they are more affordable to families than at a traditional clinic.

“The community said: we don’t want free services. We want affordable services,” said Agramont. “All the families we serve are working.”

And in the last year the clinic has begun serving the dental health needs of children.

First, Midvale CBC was awarded a Healthy Smiles, Healthy Children Access to Care grant from The Foundation of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry to do outreach in the community. Two Midvale residents serve as community health workers to provide information about basic dental care to parents and kids. They demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques and refer the families to the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry through a partnership with the Utah Dental Association.

Then in February a pediatric dentist began accepting appointments at the CBC Clinic.

“We want to start early so [going to the dentist] is not a scary experience,” Agramont said. “Some kids get very excited because the first time they come we give them a little toy. The idea is to help them feel comfortable.”

Four hundred children have received dental care since July 2018, with a goal to treat 300 more by June. But the clinic needs help to achieve that.

“In general we are overwhelmed with the need. Sometimes there is a two-month waiting list,” said Agramont. “Right now we are open an average of three days a week, but everything depends on our dentists’ availability.” All six of the clinic’s dentists are either retired or volunteering outside of their normal clinic hours.

Dr. Michel Haynie has been volunteering at the clinic for about two months. 

“We are trying to satisfy a great, unmet need with very little resources,” said Haynie. “It’s not the same as working in your own office, but it’s very rewarding. This is not a walk-in clinic — we treat patients in a thoughtful, methodical way.”

A typical patient at the clinic has not seen a dentist in years, if ever. But that is starting to change as more residents are learning that the resource is available to them. Luis Zuria regularly saw a dentist when he lived in Venezuela, but this is his first visit since he moved to Draper 10 months ago. He had been experiencing some tooth pain when he saw a flyer with information about the clinic and decided to come in.

Haynie urges his colleagues of all specialties, including dentists, hygienists and oral surgeons to join him in volunteering, especially those who are bilingual or just starting out in their careers. He’s worked with dental hygiene students from as far away as St. George who volunteer their time (under the supervision of a doctor).

“When they’re here, it changes their perspective. Everybody learns at least a little bit here and much of the learning is learned in the heart,” said Haynie. “Money comes and money goes, but we might not get this chance to help someone again.”

Agramont has continued working to improve the experience for both volunteer dentists and clients. Last spring, he secured a grant from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation to purchase new equipment and CharityVision recently donated four dental chairs. 

The clinic is now so crowded that dental chairs often need to be moved aside to make way for after school programs and parenting classes. And the Midvale CBC board continues to identify needs in the community, including mental health, legal services and more educational opportunities.

“So many members of our community were resigned to lose their teeth. But now we’re doing more root canals, more crowns — and fewer extractions,” said Agramont. “Every service that we bring to Midvale is community-driven. We’re tackling each need one at a time.”