Bridging the Great Health Divide: Shannon County works to overcome lack of dental services

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 11:23 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2022 at 9:25 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - For many people living in rural areas of the Ozarks getting to a dental office for an oral health screening is almost impossible.

In Shannon County, there isn’t a practicing dentist. Local health and public school officials are working to bring services to their areas with the help of medical partners.

“As far as I remember we’ve never had a dental office, in my lifetime, in Shannon County,” said Corrie Mahan.

She works at the Shannon County Health Agency in Eminence.

“People around here are so used to not having those services available that they don’t even think about it,” she explained.

Mahan works to provide services to low-income families in the area.

“One of the screenings that we do in WIC is a dental screening but it’s just a verbal dental screening,” said Mahan.

She asks applicants if they have any broken or loose teeth, problems chewing and logs their complaints. She says she often recommends seeing a dentist to her clients if they have access to one in a neighboring county.

“If they don’t have an existing dentist then we have a referral sheet that we give them of dentists around the area, around the towns. Not in Eminence. Not in Winona. Not in Summersville. Not in Birch Tree. Nowhere in Shannon County that we know takes Medicaid,” she said.

Local school-age children face the same challenges.

“These kids need to be seen. Sometimes the programs that we can actually get here that’s the only care that they have access to,” said Jennifer Mayberry.

She is the school nurse for the Winona School District and works with local providers to set up mobile dental clinics.

“Showing them how to brush their teeth. Getting them the supplies they need. When we were able to get the dentist into the school they were able to provide the x-rays and all the preventative care,” she explained.

These small organizations can’t do it alone.

Providers like Missouri Highlands Health Services are working to make sure people in areas like Shannon County get the resources and services they need.

“Really laying that foundation of good oral care is really our mission,” said Karen White of Missouri Highlands Health Services.

The CEO of the organization says in addition to the mobile dentist unit used to serve local school children they are also working towards helping other sectors of the Shannon County community.

“We are also working on an initiative with the long-term care facilities, the nursing homes in the area to get in and provide care to the residents there,” explained White.

She says she is hopeful that they could provide more care to more people soon.

“In the future, we would like to talk about expanding the role of the mobile dental unit however, the biggest constricting factor is the ability to recruit a full-time dentist just to work the mobile dental unit. We shouldn’t have to choose between health care and hills and trees,” said White.

Most people in Shannon County travel to West Plains to see a dentist.

They also travel as far as Springfield for specialized dental care and procedures.

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