Shannon County works to remedy the lack of dental services

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – For many people who live in rural areas of the Ozarks, it is nearly impossible to get to a dental office for an oral health exam.

There is no practicing dentist in Shannon County.

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 Shannon County in my entire life,” said Corrie Mahan.

She works at the Shannon County Health Agency in Eminence.

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

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 an oral dental screening,” Mahan said.

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

“If they don’t have an existing dentist, we have a referral note that we give them from dentists nearby, in the cities. Not in Eminence. Not in Winona. Not in Summerville. Not in Birch Tree. Nowhere in Shannon County that we know of uses Medicaid,” she said.

Local school-aged children face the same challenges.

“These children need to be seen. Sometimes the programs we can get here are the only concern they have access to,” says Jennifer Mayberry.

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

“They show them how to brush their teeth. By giving 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 preventive care,” she explains.

However, these small organizations cannot 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.

“Our mission is to lay the groundwork for good oral care,” says Karen White.

The organization’s CEO says that in addition to the mobile dental unit used to help local school children, they are also working to help 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 there and provide care to the home there,” explains White.

She says she is hopeful that they will soon be able to provide more care to more people.

“In the future, we want to talk about expanding the role of the mobile dental unit, but the biggest, limiting factor is the ability to hire a full-time dentist just to run the mobile dental unit. We wouldn’t have to choose between healthcare and hills and trees,” White said.

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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