A dental clinic that serves low-income children and adults in Santa Cruz County is preparing to expand its already-busy operation.
The expansion will allow Dientes Community Dental Care, 1830 Commercial Way, in Santa Cruz, to accommodate more patients, according to executive director Larua Marcus.
The practice saw 850 patients from the San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley area. Those patients made 2,300 visits to the clinic last year. Dientes saw 7,000 patients countywide in 2013 and has a waiting list that’s three months long, Marcus said.
The 3,200-square-foot clinic, which also has 1,800 square feet of administrative space, has 36 employees, with four dentists and a hygienist working six days a week. The $3 million expansion will add a 1,800-square-foot pediatric care area and 900 square feet to the administration wing.
Each dentist sees about 15 patients per day because of limited space in the facility. The expansion will allow each pediatric dentist to double their daily patients to the industry norm of about 30 per day, Marcus said.
Dientes also plans to launch a second branch in Watsonville in September 2014.
Most of the clinic’s patients, Marcus said, live at or below the poverty level in Santa Cruz County — about $15,000 per year for one person or $40,000 per year for a four-person household.
Marcus said that 96 percent of patients qualify for the lowest fee at the clinic, which offers a sliding scale depending on the income of the client.
“In general, dentists are willing to take cash,” Marcus said, “But they’re not typically offering a sliding scale. Two hundred dollars at Dientes will usually be $400 to $600 at another dentist.”
The clinic accepts insurance of all types and needs proof of income to determine where patients fall on the sliding scale. Patient visits, Marcus said, are also prioritized based on need.
Already the clinic has raised $2.2 million of the $3 million needed for the expansion and plans to launch a public campaign to pay for the rest.
Marcus said the need for low-cost dentistry will only increase because dental care was not built into the Affordable Care Act that will kick in fully in 2014.
Also, the county’s Healthy Families Program was cut March 1, leaving some children without dental insurance.
Dientes, a nonprofit founded in 1992, has a business model that seems sustainable.
“Being a service-based nonprofit, we are income-generating,” Marcus said. “Ninety percent of the operation is paid for by service revenue, so that provides a level of sustainability.”
A final $600,000 is raised by grants and community donors each year, she said.
To learn more or make an appointment, visit www.dientes.org or call 464-5409.
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