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News Release

New Duluth-Based Oral Health Hub to Expand Dental Care for Children from Low-Income Households and Communities of Color

Project will reach 1,000 children through outreach to tribal communities, schools and nonprofits.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – With support from the Medica Foundation and other community partners, Minnesota-based nonprofit Children’s Dental Services (CDS) is laying a foundation for underserved children in northeastern Minnesota to have greater access to quality oral health care.

CDS is developing a new multi-faceted “oral health hub” that will be based in a historic building at 25 W. Superior Street in downtown Duluth. CDS acquired the building earlier this year. The building will be renovated to accommodate modern dental equipment and serve as a hub for tele-dental health services and mobile dentistry units that will bring culturally sensitive dental care to underserved children in tribal communities, schools and social service sites across the Northland.

The Medica Foundation provided a $200,000 innovation grant to support the strategic planning, community engagement and program implementation phases of the project over a two-year period that began in October 2020.

Project addresses oral health needs of underserved children

The region’s need for a strong safety-net pediatric dental provider is clear:

  • 16% of children in northeastern Minnesota live in poverty, while the statewide average is 12%. (2020 County Health Rankings, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute)
  • The American Indian community, heavily concentrated in northeastern Minnesota, has a poverty rate of 28.6%. (2020 County Health Rankings)
  • A majority of northeastern Minnesota counties are designated Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
  • American Indian pregnant women and children suffer disproportionately high rates of dental disease and have significantly worse access to culturally targeted dental care and education than their peers. (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2015)

“We can do better as a community, and the best way to do that is to take a holistic approach. The work CDS is doing in northeastern Minnesota has the potential to become a national model of a one-stop shop for children’s dental care,” said Sarah Wovcha, CDS Executive Director.

CDS projects that its new hub will improve the oral and overall health of 1,000 children from low-income households, tribal communities, and other communities of color within one year of its opening in late 2022.

Broad support from community

CDS was encouraged to establish a regional hub in Duluth by a number of nonprofits and community entities that serve the Northland-area children and families who suffer most from persistent health disparities and inequities. CDS widened its circle of support by engaging additional organizations in its strategic planning process for the hub.

Organizations that support the oral health hub project include the American Indian Community Housing Organization; Arrowhead Economic Development Agency; Center of American Indian and Minority Health; Churches United in Ministry; Damiano Center; Duluth Community School Collaborative; Duluth Public Schools; Life House; St. Louis County Public Health Department and the Ordean Foundation.

Medica’s continued commitment to health equity

Medica Foundation has supported CDS with grants since 2006, including a $200,000 innovation grant in 2011 to develop an oral health hub in Moorhead, Minnesota.

“We share Children’s Dental Services’ commitment to investing in the health and wellbeing of our communities, and at the core that means ensuring everyone has access to the health care services they need,” said John Naylor, Medica President and CEO. “We immediately recognized Children’s Dental Services’ ability to create a cost-effective, evidence-based, holistic, replicable model of oral health delivery that aligns with Medica’s values and long-standing commitment to Duluth and the northeastern Minnesota region more broadly.”

Between 2011 and 2020, Medica Foundation issued 140 grants totaling $1.3 million in northeastern Minnesota. Of these, 72 grants totaling nearly $800,000 were made to organizations headquartered in Duluth. Medica has maintained a regional sales and customer service office in Duluth since 1996.

About Children’s Dental Services

Children’s Dental Services (CDS) is a longstanding and vibrant, nonprofit community clinic dedicated to improving the oral health of children from families with low incomes by providing comprehensive, accessible dental treatment and education across our diverse Minnesota community since 1919.

About Medica Foundation

The Medica Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable grant-making foundation. It is an affiliate of Medica Health Plans, a Minnesota-based nonprofit HMO, and Medica Insurance Company. The Medica Foundation generally seeks to fund community-based programs and initiatives that can provide sustainable, measurable improvements in the availability, access and quality of health care, particularly for underserved populations. Additional information about the Medica Foundation is available online.