Dental services make a match with People’s Center in south Minneapolis

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The People’s Center Health Services of Minneapolis now offers dental.                           


On an icy cold day in November, the southwest style cactus sculpture and pictures of New Mexico-like-landscapes hanging on the wall in the Family Dental Care lobby offer a sharp contrast to the 15-degree temperatures in South Minneapolis. Russian, Spanish and Somali conversations add to the waiting room’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.


Since the early 1990s, Family Dental Care has served patients in the community who often could not afford dental care or were uninsured. The People’s Center Health Services, a free grassroots health clinic founded in 1970 near Riverside and 20th Ave. South, fulfilled a long-term goal of providing dental services when they bought Family Dental Care, located in south Minneapolis, in October.


Dr. Kent Confeld, a man with a permanent smile in his eye, had been looking to retire when he put Family Dental Care up for sale earlier in 2010. The People’s Center Health Services bought it “pretty quick,” he said.


Confeld Family Dental Care’s commitment to patients of all socio-economic statuses had been a major selling point to the People’s Center Health Services. Before the sale, about 75 percent of Family Dental Care’s patients were low-income or uninsured. That, along with its close proximity to the People’s Center Health Services and its convenient location to public transit, made the decision to buy easy for People’s Center Health Services.


“If the clinic had closed, it would have been a huge loss to the Seward neighborhood,” said Rhonda Eastlund, the chief program officer at People’s Center Health Services. “There are not many dental practices that focus on low-income patients.”


Merging the medical and dental practices has been a smooth transition, Eastlund said, “and much needed.”  In years of needs assessments by People’s Center Health Services, patients had consistently asked for dental care.


According to People’s Center surveys, 62 percent of their patients have never received dental care. Eastlund said the dental clinic now sees 25 to 30 patients a day, and it is not uncommon for patients to have never received dental care.


“Dental care is often considered a luxury, even for the middle class,” said Jamie Millard, People’s Center marketing coordinator. “It is not considered a priority, but oral health is such a key component to overall health.”


The clinic is a federally qualified full service dental clinic, practicing general dentistry including minor implants and minor oral surgeries.  Any service not offered at Family Dental Care is referred out to specialists.


For those who qualify, Family Dental Care offers sliding fees and other aids for payment.


“A lot of dentists think they’re above these people–I don’t.” Confeld said.  “They’re people, just like me and they need a little help.”           


And the decor in the clinic? Before Confield took over the practice in 2003, he had been to New Mexico a few times and had brought back artifacts to decorate his cabin in northern Minnesota.  When he bought the practice, he transferred his southwest style from his cabin to his workplace.