Dental services in areas such as Tonopah and other surrounding communities with smaller populations are not as available as in urban areas of the state, sometimes forcing patients to travel tens of miles.
This is where the Nevada Dental Foundation, the charitable arm of the Nevada Dental Association, comes in to increase access and provide quality care.
Long-time Las Vegas dentist and NDF director Dr David Mahon spoke to the Tonopah Times Bonanza & Goldfield News about recent organizational changes and their efforts to increase dental services in underserved areas and rural Nevada, with its primary target being Tonopah.
In recent weeks, Mahon said the NDF was in talks with Central Nevada Regional Care to set up a dental clinic in his clinic.
“I think Tonopah is kind of a strategic location,” Mahon said. “It’s a central location, and you have these outlying communities that are somewhat convenient there. “
Mahon said the NRC clinic was recently renovated and there is space allocated for a dental clinic, “so this was a great opportunity for us to start something in partnership with them.”
The push to open the Tonopah Clinic began with the rebranding of the NDA Foundation for Oral Health.
“Their goals were sort of moving away from their original mission, so we asked to be part of this nonprofit,” said Mahon.
Mahon explained that they had to function as 501 (c) (3) and that seemed like a faster route than setting up a competing organization with similar missions.
Mahon said they “were able to repopulate their board and redirect the mission to what it was supposed to do.”
Essentially, the Nevada Dental Foundation is a brand new image for NDAFOH. According to a statement from NDF, the organization was established in 2005 as a nonprofit organization and dispersed grants to promote oral health. In the past, NDF has sponsored the Joel Glover Memorial Golf Tournament and the annual Give Kids Smile events.
Now that NDF has been reorganized, it is working to better fulfill its commitment to education and charity and to bring quality dentistry to underserved areas of Nevada.
Mahon says NDF has applied for grants and is working on a feasibility study and business model, which are basically used to seek additional grants.
“Once the clinic is up and running, we hope to generate income, so it’s sustainable,” said Mahon. “It will therefore be self-financing. “
Grant money is seed money to help expand dental services in Tonopah.
“So NRC, they renovated a space, but basically it’s just an open space,” Mahon says. “We need to get electricity and water where we need it. “
NDF has the dental equipment ready for use, according to Mahon, so “we have the mechanical systems. We just need to work with their contractor to install it and make it fully functional.
Mahon said: “The space is there. it’s a nice new space. It has been renovated.
NDF also worked on recruiting for the new dental service center.
NDF recently interviewed members of the Southern Nevada Dental Society and found a healthy response to volunteering in Tonopah, according to Mahon.
“I think initially it will be a volunteer clinic, where dentists rotate with their staff to provide care,” he said.
Tonopah’s location would also have a permanent person in place, such as a hygienist with public health approval to oversee operations and so there is continuity of care, Mahon said, “there is a face to the clinic, where patients can call or drop in to make an appointment. “
But there is another goal for staffing.
“Ultimately, we hope to attract a dentist who is interested in the model practice,” said Mahon.
This dentist can be full-time or part-time.
“It could be something where a young dentist works there two to three days a week and fulfills that need,” Mahon said. “You want to be productive when you’re up there. “
Mahon said the available services NDF is seeking to provide Tonopah will include things like root canals, oral surgery and dentures.
Mahon expects there to be insured and uninsured patients.
“We have borrowed a declining fee schedule from other nonprofits that do the same,” Mahon said.
Tonopah and beyond
Mahon has some ideas for the NDF sequel.
“I think I see where the market is or where the need is,” he said. “It could be FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Centers) or maybe tribal clinics, something like that; or we could explore as a mobile installation or a portable installation which can be moved as needed.
The lack of dental care in rural areas affects Tonopah and similar communities. Recently, Governor Steve Sisolak vetoed Senate Bill 391, which would have extended services like teledentistry to places like Tonopah.
Mahon said the state has taken initiatives to bring dentists to Nevada, such as Reciprocity, where out-of-state dentists have been licensed to practice in the state. But these dentists often visit major metropolitan areas in the state, such as Reno and Las Vegas, he said.
“There is no real incentive to attract dentists to these underserved communities,” Mahan said.
Mahon sees ways to attract dentists to rural parts of the state.
“I think the student loan cancellation would be huge,” he said.
Mahon also talked about things like working for an establishment for five years and then they pay off all or part of your loans.
“You have to create an incentive to bring dentists to these places. “
Contact editor Jeffrey Meehan at [email protected]