Dental care in Lane County

Oregon has a dental problem. But Dr. Patrick Luedtke said he thinks that problem is significantly worse in Lane County.

Luedtke is the public health officer for Community Health Centers of Lane County, which worked with the county’s Women Infants and Children — WIC — program to set up a free dental clinic in Cottage Grove, which opened Thursday, and one in Oakridge, which will open July 19.

WIC is designed to promote lifetime nutrition and healthy behaviors for what is considered an at-risk population of lower-income women and children.

“Nutrition and oral health go hand-in-hand,” WIC Program Supervisor Connie Sullivan said. “Young children with cavities may experience speech difficulty and miss school days due to pain and infection; these clinics will help to reduce that problem.”

More than a dozen children received dental exams and cleanings on opening day at the Cottage Grove clinic, which is nestled in the Department of Human Services Family Center.

Dental hygienist Renee Rhuman takes a look at the teeth of Crystal Dueñas as her sister watches on the opening day of a free dental clinic in Cottage Grove. (Tommy Pittenger)

Dental hygienist Renee Rhuman takes a look at the teeth of Crystal Dueñas as her sister watches on the opening day of a free dental clinic in Cottage Grove. (Tommy Pittenger)

Brittney Marquez, who brought her son Carlos into the new clinic for a checkup, has been enrolled in WIC for more than a year. If not for the new WIC clinic, Marquez said, she would not have been able to take her son in for dental care for another year.

“It’s just a nice assurance that me and his father are doing everything right so far,” Marquez said.

In addition to free dental exams, fluoride varnish applications and dental cleanings, the clinics also provide oral health information, toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to WIC clients, infants and toddlers with the goal of preventing future dental problems.

Carlos Marquez waits patiently as Renee Rhuman cleans his teeth. (Tommy Pittenger)

Carlos Marquez waits patiently as Renee Rhuman cleans his teeth. (Tommy Pittenger)

The county estimates the two new clinics will serve as many as 457 patients a year.

Luedtke said that state and national surveys have shown that the state in general, and Lane County in particular, have a dental problem, with access being a major issue.

“Not everyone has access to dentists and there are no after hours access for dental emergencies,” Leudtke said. Emergency room physicians can provide temporary treatment such as pain killers, but generally can’t properly treat dental problems, he said. Emergency rooms are often the source of health care for people without insurance.

Luedtke said he hopes the new clinic will act as a preventative measure so children will learn proper dental maintenance and these access problems won’t effect them in the future.

Lane County opened its first clinics for WIC clients and their children two years ago at the Whiteaker Elementary School and the Lane County Health and Human Services office in Eugene. The new clinics are the first ones to open in rural parts of the county.

Both those clinics and the new ones are funded by a state grant. Because the dental clinics operate out of existing buildings, they create minimal operating costs for WIC.

Jason Davis, a spokesman for Lane County Health and Human Services, said he has high hopes for both new rural clinics. The biggest challenge will be getting the word out to eligible people in the WIC program.

“Hopefully if the media goes well, the clinics will be packed. We had a tremendous response in Eugene two years ago,” when the clinics opened there, Davis said.

Any child enrolled in WIC currently with teeth — 65 percent of the WIC population — is eligible for the free dental services.


In order to be eligible for WIC itself, applicants must meet four criteria:

Be pregnant, a postpartum or breastfeeding woman, or an infant or child under the age of 5.

Have a household income of less than 185 percent of poverty guidelines. (Those receiving TANF, food stamps or the Oregon Health Care Plan are automatically eligible.)

Have a nutritional need.

Live in an area served by a WIC clinic (every geographical area in Oregon is served by WIC)


  • More than one in two children (52%) between 6-9 years of age have had a cavity, representing about 66,000 Oregon school children.
  • One in five children (20%) between 6-9 years of age had untreated decay in their primary or permanent teeth.
  • More than 17,000 children had rampant decay – seven or more teeth with treated or untreated decay.
  • Thirty-eight percent of 6-9-year-old children had dental sealants, representing about 48,000 children in 1st and 3rd grades.
  • Just over half of all 3rd-graders have dental sealants, leaving about 20,000 3rd-graders without this highly effective, safe, and low-cost intervention that protects against cavities.


Have you heard of the natural cavity fighter? Community Health Centers of Lane County encourages not only children, but teens and parents to chew the natural sugar that can be found in fruits, berries, plants, trees and vegetables. Xylitol is essentially a safe sugar, that if used daily can reduce cavities, help heal previous cavities, reduce ear and sinus infections for babies, and stop new bacteria from sticking to teeth.

Xylitol is found in natural ingredients including gum, mints, toothpaste, mouth rinses and is also found in raw sugar forms.

OREGON DENTAL FACTS are taken from the 2012 Smile Survey, which is a national survey taken in each state every 5 years.

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