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updated: 4/12/2011 5:47 PM

DuPage ready to assist dental patients in need

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DuPage County health officials say they have been proactive in expanding programs for those in need and, as a result, the planned closure of the DuPage Community Clinic's dental services should have very little impact.

Health department Executive Director Maureen McHugh said a dental advisory board will be created later this month to focus on increasing the office's capacity to serve patients. Creation of the board is part of the county's overall Oral Health Plan.

"There is never good timing for this and it's always hard when a not-for-profit has to refocus its position," she said. "(But) since 2008, we have been creating a virtual dental home in our communities."

The free clinic will shut its dental operations July 1 as it redirects resources to an expanding medical services division brought on by an increased demand caused by the economic downturn.

McHugh said expanding coverage and reorganizing was inevitable for both organizations.

"When they (the clinic) started (in 1995), there was very little poverty," she said. "It's been growing at such a rapid rate since 2005, you can see where they will have to refocus their mission. Even in our own dental services, our numbers have increased 100 percent in the last three years."

McHugh said the health department's program already sees some of the clinic's clients. She said one of the largest tasks will be to develop a strong case management system to minimize any detrimental effects patients might experience during the transition.

Unlike traditional programs, which usually operate out of a central office, McHugh said the "virtual dental home" will incorporate volunteers and professionals from across the county as well as mobile dentistry units to offer the services to those in need.

"In terms of numbers, this won't dramatically impact us," she said. "We currently see well over 30,000 patients per year."

Clinic officials say they have helped nearly 7,000 dental patients in about 4 years.

The advisory board will include professionals, university representatives and officials from area organizations, such as the People's Resource Center and Access DuPage, as well as the DuPage Community Clinic.

"We are confident we can continue to grow services and to meet the needs of the underserved in the community," McHugh said.