New dental center increases access to urgent dental care

It is estimated that 68.5 million American adults do not have dental insurance and therefore have limited access to dental care. This has led to a nationwide oral health crisis with many choosing to ignore their need for critical dental care and lower income individuals and racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately affected.

Here in Kent County, Cherry Health is doing the work to increase access to dental care to the community and close the disproportionate gap. On March 5 the organization opened its newest dental center in the Grand Rapids Belknap neighborhood. However, the Belknap Commons Dental Center is a little different from the other Cherry Health centers, because this center treats unplanned urgent dental needs. 

“We have had this idea in mind for a while. We see a lot of walk in and urgent dental patients at our regular dental sites and the way our centers are set up now, if someone comes in with an urgent need, they can wait and see if we have an opening either from someone who doesn't show or someone who canceled their appointment, but they can’t take someone’s place,“ says Bill Joure, chief operating officer of Cherry Health. “The Belknap Dental Center will give folks access to being able to come in with nothing but a walk in and have their urgent needs met. We’re hoping this center will be able to serve people in a more efficient manner.”

New use for space

The Belknap Dental Center is not new to Cherry Health. It was open and serving the community prior to COVID-19. However, the center was closed for a while due to the pandemic. During its close, Cherry Health thought that the location of the center would make a good spot for an urgent walk-in dental center. After a fundraising campaign by the Cherry Health Foundation, the building was able to be renovated and three new dental chairs added, bringing the total to five.

The new Belknap Commons Dental Center treats unplanned urgent dental needs. 
The center has operating hours of 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday — no appointments needed.

“The opening is a pilot to see what the demand for an urgent walk-in dental center is with later hours than we normally have in our dental clinics. Most of them are closed by 5 p.m.  but for this initial opening we targeted Tuesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 we would be here and available for folks outside of normal work hours,” says Joure.

Those in need of urgent dental care will now be able to walk in and have their sore tooth or mouth examined. Anything outside of regular dental maintenance can be treated at the Belknap Dental Center. This includes broken teeth, trauma to the mouth, or a toothache with an unknown cause. 

“We see this center as a great option for the Grand Rapids market for urgent and walk-in care. It also takes some of the pressure off of our other dental sites where folks are walking in and sometimes waiting, not able to be seen, because patients show up and our schedules are booked,” says Joure. 

The increased access to care goes further than creating walk-in availability for urgent needs and operating outside of working hours. Cherry Health Dental Centers also increase access to dental care for community members by allowing the use of Medicaid insurance. 

“There are very few dentists or dental providers who accept Medicaid, so that is one place that we definitely meet the needs of patients. As a federally qualified health center we also have a sliding fee discount program based on where people fall relative to the federal poverty level so we're an important resource for dental care not only in Grand Rapids but also in our rural sites in Greenville and Hastings,” says Joure. 

Non-urgent dental care is not currently available at the Belknap Center but that will hopefully change in the future, Joure says. 

“We've seen a fair number of folks just in the couple of weeks that we've been open, so the next measure of success would be identifying that the demand is great enough that we can expand the hours of the center to being open five to six days a week and serving all dental needs,” says Joure.

Those who are in need of regular dental care may make an appointment at any of the other four Cherry Health dental centers. Visit their website and learn more about their locations here.

Photos courtesy of Cherry Health
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