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On Commerce Street in Crane, Missouri, not far from the antique shops of Main Street, or the creek where the cranes traditionally flocked, a dentist’s office is decked out for the holidays. It has giant toothbrushes sticking up in the front flower bed, and a four-foot tall tooth is lit up with lights.
[Sound: ultrasonic cleaner]
Inside, an ultrasonic cleaner is going to work on the the dental instruments, and the staff members are getting ready to close down the office after another day’s work.
Dr. Terry Burpo has practiced family dentistry for 12 years in this Stone County town of about 1400 people.
According to the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health, a non-profit organization, several counties throughout rural Missouri lack the services of community based, full-time dentists. In this part of rural Stone county, Burpo sees patients from not only Crane, but also the surrounding small towns.
“There’s Hurley and Aurora, and Cape Fair, Shell Knob, some from Reed Spring, and Marionville, and Billings, and a lot of spaces between towns,” Burpo said.
Since he’s worked in both rural and urban settings in the Ozarks, I ask him what separates them from one another.
“The dentistry itself is really, I think, the same. We offer the same services, and we have up-to-date technology. We do digital X-Rays. But with the people, I think, there’s more of a sense of community. I’m involved in the Chamber of Commerce and with local merchants,” he said.
“I don’t see a lot of difference between urban and rural. People like to be pain free. They like to smile, and chew their food comfortably. And I think that’s kind of universal,” he said.
Still, he says about half of his patients are uninsured. For those without dental insurance, he says he tries to spread their work out over time, or finance their dental bills.
According to a county-by-county study done by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in every three children in Stone County lives in a single-parent household, and only 38 percent of children have regular access to healthy foods.
Burpo says for those who are unable to afford dental care, there are still options, at least for children in Crane.
The “Tooth Truck,” or the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, comes to Crane. Also, Burpo volunteers his skills once a year at Head Start, where he does screenings on low-income kids.
“We set up a couple of folding chairs and I use a flashlight for a lighting source, and a mouth mirror, and just do an examination with the best lighting and facilities that are available. And then if we see any areas that we’re concerned with, then we have them make an appointment here,” Burpo said.
Most impoverished children who end up here for dental work are able to get treatment through Medicaid. The same cannot be said for the state’s impoverished adults. The Missouri Foundation for Oral Health also says Missouri has extremely low re-imbursement rates for dentists who file Medicaid claims.
He says the push for awareness and education of dental hygiene is paying off when it comes to the dental health of children.
He says he has seen several patients whom he would describe as impoverished, and that no matter how you look at it, poverty has a detrimental effect on dental health.
Burpo says he can’t see himself leaving his practice in Crane, and that he’s found the charms and the benefits of a small community refreshing.
Join us tomorrow morning at 7:30, and throughout this week, as our Sense of Community series continues. I’m Jennifer Moore.