SUBSCRIBE NOW AND SAVE 3 months just 99¢/month



Smile, Detroit Lakes may become home to nonprofit dental clinic

Apple Tree Dental clinic in Hawley has a waiting list of about 1,300 people, while the newly-expanded Apple Tree Dental clinic in Fergus Falls has a waiting list of about 800 people.

There's a big need for low-income dental care in Becker County. (Forum News Service photo)

Detroit Lakes is painfully in need of a nonprofit dental clinic for children and adults on Minnesota Health Care Programs.

Most local residents now have to travel to nonprofit dental clinics in Hawley, Fergus Falls, Park Rapids, Moorhead, Bemidji and Halstad — and even then there’s often a long wait for an appointment, said Jane Neubauer, dental services coordinator with Partnership4Health.

Apple Tree Dental clinic in Hawley has a waiting list of about 1,300 people, while the newly-expanded Apple Tree Dental clinic in Fergus Falls has a waiting list of about 800 people, she said.

Neubauer spoke at separate meetings of the Detroit Lakes City Council and the Becker County Board of Commissioners last week.

There are only five dentists that serve Minnesota health care programs recipients in the entire region, including one that exclusively handles people with special needs, she said.


“It’s a real problem,” she said in an interview. The various mobile dental clinics that come through the Detroit Lakes area just can’t keep up with demand, and travel can be difficult for people without much money.

The need is great: There were more than 11,000 Becker County residents aged zero to 69 enrolled in one of the Minnesota Health Care Programs in 2019, but only about a third of them saw a dentist in 2019.

(The exception is young people ages 6 to 20. Nearly 57% of them received dental care in 2019.)

Neubauer said she is part of a committee that has been meeting to review the dental access problems in the region and working to address them.

“We’ve been talking to Apple Tree Dental and Northern Dental Access (in Bemidji) to see if they are interested in partnering on a building in Detroit Lakes,” she said. “They’re having some discussions about what a combined effort might look like as far as providing services here.”

The next step is to hire a planner to do a feasibility study and a formal business plan, she added. “That will give us some formal structure as to what a building might look like and who would run it.”

She met with the Detroit Lakes and Becker County elected officials to keep them in the loop and ask for their support. “We’re looking for additional stakeholders from the Detroit Lakes community to join us in this planning process,” she said. “We have to get our ducks in a row before we start fundraising.”

The meetings with the city council and county board went well, she said: “The city had some very valid questions about the problem. Overall it was very optimistic and positive. The county was very, very supportive of the idea."


Minnesota has long had a dismal record of supporting dental care for lower-income people.

According to the Larkin Hoffman law firm, a 2018 study by the Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association found that Minnesota’s Medicaid program (Medical Assistance) ranked 49th out of 50 states for pediatric dental reimbursement and 47th in adult dental reimbursement.

This year, the Legislature (bolstered by federal stimulus dollars) took strong action, targeting $61 million to boost the state’s MA reimbursement rates for dental care. After Jan. 1, that will mean an across-the-board increase of approximately 98% for private dentists working on low-income patients.

“I do believe there’s hope,” Neubauer said. “I do believe the Detroit Lakes community has what it takes to do this long-term process.”

3 Boy and Guardian Thumbs Up.jpeg
A young patient and his guardian give a big thumbs up to the new dental clinic in Fergus Falls. Advocates are hoping a similar clinic could be built in Detroit Lakes. (Submitted photo)

Related Topics: NONPROFITS
What to read next
Construction of Detroit Lakes' Polar Fest Ice Palace got underway this Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 20-22, with the harvesting of 2,000 blocks of ice from Little Detroit Lake. The blocks will be used to construct the city's largest ice palace to date, along with an ice maze, professionally-carved ice sculptures, and more. The palace will be unveiled in a Grand Lighting Ceremony set for 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11 — which marks the opening of the 17-day winter festival.
A 4-year-old Detroit Lakes boy, under-dressed for winter, was found outside by sanitation workers on Jan. 12, which led to the involvement of Detroit Lakes police officers contacting the mother and returning the child. While dropping off the boy to a frantic mother, the officers noticed the family was in desperate need of help, which is how, through a series of calls and donations from the Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store, a family's life was changed for the better.
Barricades are going up on Little Detroit Lake this week in anticipation of the ice harvest that will launch construction of Detroit Lakes' 2022 Polar Fest Ice Palace, starting Thursday, Jan. 20. The ice palace will be the city's largest to date, containing roughly 2,000 blocks of ice harvested directly from the lake. Polar Fest will officially begin Thursday, Feb. 11 and conclude Sunday,. Feb. 27. The super-sized winter festival marks the culmination of the community's 150th birthday celebration.
It was a terrible start to the New Year for Dent cabin owners Mike and Jenny Parker, who let out their beloved dog, Doc, that Friday morning only to have him run into the trees and disappear from sight.