(FROM THE TYLER PAPER) - As a physician Dr. Ryan Menard has seen and heard of the negative effects of bad teeth.
People, who are missing teeth and can't afford dentures, often are malnourished because they're limited to soft foods.
Cavities, lack of teeth and other problems, can lead to infections characterized by inflammation, the presence of pus and swelling.
In extreme cases, the infection can spread to the blood stream and ultimately affect the heart, Menard said.
"(A) very common complaint in the emergency room is dental pain," said Menard, a family medicine physician at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. "They just can't afford to go see a doctor in the office or a dentist."
The emergency room doctors can treat the pain or even prescribe antibiotics for the infection, but that's only a temporary fix, he said.
The patient would need to go to the dentist to get more appropriate care.
A possible partnership between Tyler Junior College and the health science center could provide dental services for patients like these.
The partnership would allow the college through its dental clinic to treat as many as 1,100 patients a year who are referred by the health science center.
"It would help us tremendously especially among lower income individuals just to at least go and have your teeth cleaned or go and have teeth pulled," Menard said of the potential collaboration.
"That would be a huge benefit. It would probably save costs in the long-run by preventing recurrent ER visits. I think their overall health would improve, too."
The partnership is one of 96 projects included in the health science center's regional health plan, which covers a 28-county Northeast Texas area.
The plan was created as a result of a federal waiver that Texas received that, in part, "allows health care providers to work collaboratively on innovative solutions to local health care delivery system challenges," according to the health science center's website.
Daniel Deslatte, the health science center's director of planning, said all 96 projects aim to improve access to health care, achieve better health care outcomes and achieve a cost savings in health care delivery.
Dr. Rita Allen, TJC's assistant to the president for special projects, said the college wanted to collaborate with the health science center on this project for three primary reasons: funding, flow of patients and service to the community.
The collaboration has the potential to provide additional funding to the college for its dental hygiene program, which is set to expand once the new nursing and health sciences building opens.
The funding could go toward hiring a full-time dentist, dental hygienist and paying for clinic software, Dr. Allen said.
Currently, TJC's dental hygiene clinic is in the Pirtle Technology Center on the main campus. It has three part-time dentists and 11 full- and part-time hygienists, in addition to the dental hygiene students.
Carrie Hobbs, TJC's dental hygiene department chairwoman, said dental work on patients is limited to cleaning, X-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants, full dental examinations and oral cancer screenings.
In the new facility, with the addition of a full-time dentist and hygienist, the clinic could provide full-service dentistry meaning fillings, extractions, crowns and more, in addition to the cleaning, X-rays and other work done by the students.
A second benefit would be for the students. With the health science center referring patients to TJC for dental work, dental hygiene students would have a steady stream of people to work on and gain experience for their career.
The students still would do only the dental hygiene work with the dentist doing the invasive procedures, Ms. Hobbs said.
Finally, Dr. Allen said the partnership would provide a service to the community.
"Why shouldn't we be investing (in) the needs of the community or the indigent?" she said.
The regional health plan (of which the project is a part) has gained approval at the regional level, but still must obtain it at the state and federal levels.
Deslatte said he expects the plan to clear the state hurdle in the next few weeks and move to the federal level from there.
Final approval is expected in May. Provided that goes through, the college likely would begin seeing patients this fall.