The first community in Oklahoma to add fluoride was Nowata, in 1951. But several years ago, Nowata stopped fluoridation.
Chuck Rowland, superintendent of the system, which serves 4,000 people in the area, said many small communities can’t afford to fluoridate because of the cost of feeder systems. He thinks fluoridation is often overkill because of naturally occurring fluoride and the widespread use of fluoride in toothpaste. “They just can’t afford it,” he said of smaller towns.
Another state program offers an incentive to new dentists to practice in rural areas. The Oklahoma Dental Loan Repayment Program, which began in 2007, offers $25,000 a year for two to five years to new dental-school graduates who agree to work at health clinics in underserved rural areas. At least 30 percent of the dentist’s services must be for Medicaid patients.
Fifteen dentists, including Hobbs in Sulphur, are participating. The state Legislature passed a bill this year that expands funding for the program, allowing Winfree’s division to increase participants to 25.
The state also funds dental clinics offering free care primarily to uninsured children and pregnant women. The clinics are in eight county health departments and are open from two to eight days a month.
In addition, the state sponsors an annual event called Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, in which volunteer dentists and others give free care to those who don’t have dental insurance. At the Lawton event in February, volunteers treated almost 1,800 patients, many of whom waited in line from eight to 12 hours. The location for Oklahoma Mission of Mercy changes annually, with next year’s scheduled in Enid.
Winfree said although Mission of Mercy doesn’t establish a dental home for patients, “we provide information for follow-up care if they need additional dental work.”