Dental health for children is crucial. But preventing tooth decay and teaching good oral hygiene is often difficult in rural Colorado where access to a dentist can be challenging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.

In San Miguel County, the Skippy oral health program’s administrators have been working tirelessly since 2008 to provide dental health care to pre-school children and adults. The program is also provided in Ouray, Montrose and Delta counties.

Thanks to a recent three-year $256,000 grant from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF) to Tri-County Health Network (TCHN), the Skippy program will be able to reach even more patients.

Erich Lange, TCHN community programs manager, said the grant will allow the nonprofit to not only expand its Skippy services, but to extend coverage to adults, as well.

“We’re very lucky to have this funding,” Lange said. “Over the three years, we’ll be able to increase the number of kids in the Skippy program and make sure everyone has access to a dentist.”

The target goal is to serve 700 patients in 2019. The organization will bring free dental clinics to local pre-schools with a goal of seeing at least 150 students. It will also serve adults with Medicaid dental coverage living in rural areas where there are no Medicaid providers. During these Skippy community clinics, adults can receive oral exams, x-rays and preventive care (cleanings, fluoride treatments and more). If needed, participants will also be able to have cavities filled on-site.

TCHN is one of 29 nonprofits to receive a total of $3.4 million from DDCOF in 2019 to improve community oral health.

In the 11 years it has been in place, Skippy has provided free dental clinics  at K-12 schools in TCHN’s service area. More than 7,000 kids have been seen since the program’s inception. Services include oral exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants and connections to dentists for more extensive care through tele-dentistry

Accessing dental care in rural Colorado is difficult, according to a news release. As of 2015, only one of San Miguel County’s four dentists accepted Medicaid patients, which represent more than 14 percent of the county’s population. And just 63 percent of low-income Coloradans report both good physical and oral health status.

Oral health, Lange said is crucial for overall health.

“Oral decay is 100 percent preventable,” he said. “The mouth is the gateway to the body, so good oral healthcare helps children grow healthy into adulthood. It benefits overall health and personal confidence.”

Skippy is a proven program that removes geographic and financial barriers to help people access dental care at locations they visit regularly. Modeled after the ForsythKids Comprehensive Caries Prevention Program, in 2011 Skippy received recognition with the award of the Innovative School-Based Health Intervention Award from the Colorado Association of School-Based Healthcare. According the TCHN’s website, “For children who routinely attend Skipppy, we have been able to reduce and keep the percentage of children with untreated tooth decay to 20 percent, 9 percent below the national average.”

There is no cost to the parent or the school. Skippy will be making visits to the Telluride schools April 30 and May 1-2 at the intermediate/middle/high school campus and May 13-15 at the elementary school.

On clinic days, a Skippy Navigator escorts each child from the classroom to the clinic room and has them back in about 30 minutes. Skippy patients get a bag containing dental hygiene products and a form outlining the outcome of the exam. Parents will be contacted if any issues or further work is recommended, again through the Skippy program.

To enroll your child, visit tchnetwork.org