Good health starts with good oral hygiene and care. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access.  That's the impetus behind a new dental center being constructed in downtown Duluth.

Minnesota-based Children's Dental Services - a non-profit organization dedicated to "providing greater access to quality oral health care" is doing the site work needed to prepare for their "oral health hub".  The dental clinic will be located at 24 West Superior Street in downtown Duluth.  Signage on the windows of the site in the Skywalk announce the details (and give some privacy to the construction crews working behind them).

Steve Tanko
Steve Tanko

The project is a joint venture that originated with support from the Medica Foundation and other community partners.  With a $200,000 grant to get things started, the Medica Foundation allowed for "strategic planning, community engagement, and program implementation phases" that started back on October 2020.

As part of this phase, the building where the clinic will eventually open was purchased early in 2021.

The dental facility is being planned to meet the needs of underserved children in Duluth:

"Children's Dental Services 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."

A large number of local organizations have lent their support for the oral health hub project - including 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.

Steve Tanko
Steve Tanko

According to collateral shared on Medica's website, the 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%
  • The American Indian community - heavily concentrated in northeastern Minnesota - has a poverty rate of 28.6%
  • A majority of northeastern Minnesota counties are designated Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas
  • American Indian pregnant women and children suffer disproportionately high rates of dental disease and have significantly worse access to culturally targeted denta care and education than their peers

Once finished, the Children's Dental Services oral health hub is anticipated to "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".

Organizers of the "oral health hub" have hopes that the designs and ideas forged during the creation of the downtown Duluth site will serve them into the future.  Children's Dental Services Executive Director Sarah Wovcha explains:

"We can do better as a community, and the best way to do that is to take a holistic approach.  The work Children's Dental Services is doing in northeastern Minnesota has the potential to become a national model of a one-stop shop for children's dental care."

Expected opening date for the dental clinic is some point "in late 2022".

Steve Tanko
Steve Tanko

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