Five Community Health Centers Awarded Grants to Enhance Oral Health Services

November 20, 2019

Oral health care is more than cleaning teeth and removing cavities. Our mouths are one of the greatest vectors of disease transmission, yet we don’t often associate it with health or sickness. In fact, poor dental hygiene can be associated with diseases like pneumonia and endocarditis. Luckily, community health centers offer integrated dental services to thousands of Iowans every year. In 2018 alone, our health centers received more than 170,000 visits for dental services.

This is why we are so excited to share that five of our community health centers received Oral Health Infrastructure Awards from the Health and Resources Administration (HRSA). These awards, granted for the first time in 2019, are the first HRSA awards to focus exclusively on oral health infrastructure and access. They are a concerted effort to improve oral health integration and the infrastructure that makes it possible. Health centers can use the grant money to renovate and modernize existing facilities, purchase and install dental and radiology equipment, seek trainings and consultation on oral health integration, and purchase mobile dental units, to name a few.

HRSA awarded over $85 million to expand access to oral health care, and our centers in Iowa received $1,129,491. Each health center has the discretion to use their award money how they see fit, but we know it will be put to good use. Between 2000 and 2019, there was a 769% increase in the number of dental visits to Iowa’s community health centers. We are proud our centers are making proactive improvements to their facilities so they can provide more care to even more patients next year.

They will certainly be busy; 10% of Iowa children living under 133% of the federal poverty level had an unmet need for dental care, according to a recent study from the University of Iowa Public Policy Project. The problem extends to adults, too, and it is particularly difficult in rural areas. In 2018, HRSA designated 121 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) in Iowa, accounting for a population of 534,000. To qualify as a Dental HPSA under federal regulations, the population to provider ratio must be 5,000:1. Our health centers are not immune from this problem. However, they are committed to increasing access to dental services by assisting with referrals when needed and even extending portable units to schools, as Community Health Center of Fort Dodge is doing.

All the money from these grants will improve access to oral health services, and each health center will use the money in a way that addresses their needs. Here are some of the plans to use the award money:

Community Health Center of Fort Dodge

  • Replacing some outdated dental chairs and purchasing additional equipment. Also expanding to take portable units into area schools to provide additional care to children where they are and reduce barriers to access dental services

Community Health Centers of Southeastern Iowa

  • Renovating 1,500 square feet in the West Burlington facility to add four new operatories, an additional sterilization room, dental providers offices, and storage space  

Promise Community Health Center

  • Renovating 3,500 square feet to create two dental hygiene rooms, five dental operatories, a sterilization room, and a team workspace

Siouxland Community Health Center

  • Updating our current operatories with equipment to help streamline our services and purchasing mobile equipment to enhance their outreach program and develop a teledentistry program

List of Oral Health Infrastructure Award recipient health centers in Iowa.

Community Health Center City Award Amount
Community Health Centers of Southeastern Iowa West Burlington $300,000
Community Health Center of Fort Dodge Fort Dodge $212,868
Promise Community Health Center Sioux Center $300,000
Eastern Iowa Health Center Cedar Rapids $102,675
Siouxland Community Health Center Sioux City $213,948

Total awarded: $1,129,491