— When Robert came for dental care at Open Door Clinic last year, all his upper teeth had to be removed. The dentist told him he needed to care for his teeth or he’d lose the lower ones as well.
“He looked puzzled and said, ‘What do you mean ‘take care’ of them,’” said Sarah Kruse, CEO of Open Door. “He’d never been taught to brush or floss. Now he does.”
It is that kind of need — which is growing in the Mankato area — that has Open Door working to expand its dental services for uninsured and underinsured low-income people. And it’s why the Greater Mankato Area United Way is focusing attention on Open Door and increasing its giving to expand dental services.
Kruse spoke to more than 400 women gathered at the Verizon Wireless Center Wednesday at the United Way’s Women With Heart event.
Laura Bowman, United Way president, said the event, in its third year, has a few aims.
It serves as an unofficial kickoff to the 2013 fundraising campaign and focuses attention on a specific need in the community. And it is a way to attract more donors and increase donations to the United Way.
“The purpose is to engage women who might not normally be involved with the United Way. We have supporters who invite friends in hopes they may become supporters,” Bowman said.
In many cases they do. She said supporters who attend the events generally give more, and a large number of those who haven’t donated in the past start giving.
Last year’s Women With Heart event, attended by 300, focused on the YWCA’s Girls on the Run and YMCA’s Brother/Sister program. The local Girls on the Run program received an increase in funding for 2012 to help the program expand. And the United Way helped the YMCA start a school-based mentoring program.
Open Door served 2,100 dental patients during 6,800 visits last year. There is a constant waiting list of about 200 people.
Kruse noted that 28 percent of Mankato-area residents live below the poverty line — an $11,700 income for one or a $23,050 income for a family of four.
“We have a sliding-fee system so no one is denied care.”
Open Door also wants to expand its cooperative program with the Minnesota State University dental hygiene program in which dental students visit area schools to clean children’s teeth and do a cursory exam.
Dental hygene professor Lynnette Engeswick said the needs of many students are daunting. Of the nearly 1,000 students seen, 130 needed immediate referrals for serious dental problems and hundreds more needed other dental work.
“One (dental hygienist student) saw what looked like a raisin stuck to a student’s tooth. I looked, it was a nerve that had become so inflamed it looked like a raisin.”