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Foundation works to increase dental care access in rural Nevada, plans clinic in Tonopah

Dental services in areas such as Tonopah and other surrounding communities with smaller populations are not as available as they are in the urban areas of the state, sometimes requiring patients to travel dozens of miles.

That’s where the Nevada Dental Foundation, the charitable arm of the Nevada Dental Association, is stepping in to increase access and bring quality care.

Dr. David Mahon, a longtime Las Vegas dentist who serves as a director of the NDF, spoke with the Tonopah Times Bonanza & Goldfield News about the organization’s recent changes and its efforts to increase dental services to underserved and rural parts of Nevada, with its first target being Tonopah.

In recent weeks, Mahon said that the NDF has been in talks with Central Nevada Regional Care in setting up a dental clinic in its clinic.

“I think Tonopah is kind of a strategic location,” Mahon said. “It’s a central location, and you have those outlying communities that are somewhat convenient to it.”

Mahon said CNRC’s clinic was recently remodeled, and there is space allocated for a dental clinic, “so it was a great opportunity for us to get something going in partnership with them.”

Rebranding of organization

The push toward opening in the Tonopah clinic began with the rebranding of the NDA Foundation for Oral Health.

“Their objectives were kind of moving away from their original mission, so we asked to become part of that nonprofit,” Mahon said.

Mahon explained that they needed to operate as a 501 (c)(3) and it seemed like a more expedient route over setting up a competing organization with similar missions.

Mahon said that they “were able to repopulate their board and redirect the mission back over to what it was intended to do.”

Essentially, the Nevada Dental Foundation is a rebranding of the NDAFOH. According to a release from NDF, the organization was established in 2005 as a nonprofit and dispersed grants to promote oral health. In the past, NDF sponsored the Joel Glover Memorial Golf Tournament and Give Kids Smile annual events.

Now that NDF has been reorganized, it’s working to better fulfill its commitment to education and charity and bringing quality dentistry to underserved areas in Nevada.

Setting up shop

Mahon says that NDF has applied for grants and is working on a feasibility study and business model, which are essentially took to seek additional grant funding.

“Once the clinic is up and operational, we hope to generate revenues, so it’s sustainable,” Mahon said. “So it will be self-funded.”

The grant money is seed money to help build out the dentistry services in Tonopah.

“So CNRC, they’ve renovated a space, but basically it’s just an open space,” Mahon says. “We need to run power and water to where we need it.”

NDF has the dental equipment ready to go, 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’s been renovated.”

NDF has also been working on recruitment for the new dental services center.

NDF recently polled members from 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-based clinic, where dentists would rotate in with their staff to provide care,” he said.

The Tonopah location would also have someone permanent in place, such as a hygienist with a public health endorsement to oversee operations and so there’s continuity of care, Mahon said, “that there’s a face to the clinic, where patients can call or present to make an appointment.”

But there is another goal for staffing.

“Ultimately, we would hope to attract a dentist that the model practice appeals to them,” Mahon said.

This dentist could be full-time or part-time.

“It might be something where a young dentist works up there two to three days a week and fulfills that need,” Mahon said. “You’d want to be productive when you’re up there.”

Mahon said the available services NDF is looking to provide in Tonopah would include things like root canals, oral surgery and dentures.

Mahon is expecting that there will be insured and uninsured patients.

“We borrowed a sliding fee schedule from other nonprofits that do a similar thing,” Mahon said.

Tonopah and beyond

Mahon has a few ideas for what’s next for NDF.

“I think see where the market is or where the need is,” he said. “It might be FQHCs (Federally Qualified Health Centers) or maybe tribal clinics, something like that; or we might explore like a mobile facility or a portable facility that can be relocated based on the need.”

The lack of dental care in rural areas affects Tonopah and similar communities. Recently, Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoed Senate Bill 391, which would have expanded services like teledentistry to places such as Tonopah.

Mahon said that the state has taken some initiatives to bring dentists to Nevada such as reciprocity, where out-of-state dentists were given licenses to practice in the state. But these dentists often go to the state’s major metropolitan areas such as Reno and Las Vegas, he said.

“There’s no real drive to get dentists to these underserved communities,” Mahan said.

Mahon sees some ways to attract dentists to the rural portions of the state.

“I think student loan forgiveness would be huge,” he said.

Mahon also spoke about things such as working for a facility for five years, and then they pay all or a portion of your loans.

“You need to create some incentive to get dentists out to these locations.”

Contact Editor Jeffrey Meehan at jmeehan@pvtimes.com

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