"Uncovered" Documentary Explores Minnesota's Oral Health Crisis

Uncovered: Minnesota's Dental Emergency

“What would it take to make dentistry painless for all Minnesotans?” asked the narrator of a TPT documentary that aired this weekend.

Uncovered: Minnesota’s Dental Health Crisis documents the breakdown in oral health in the state and explores the role of Critical Access Dental providers in delivering preventive and emergency oral health care to Minnesotans on Medicaid and without insurance.

The documentary, produced by AppleTree Dental, features expertise from Director of Dental Therapy Karl Self, DDS, MBA, among others.

Self serves on the board of AppleTree Dental, having worked with Founder and Director Michael Hegelson since they attended school together. The two are well aware of the need for awareness and advocacy on behalf of critical access providers and the desire to make impactful, long-lasting change through the Minnesota legislature.

Inspired by a trust provided to the Fergus Falls AppleTree clinic, Self and AppleTree partnered with TPT to provide the documentary as an informational toolkit.

“There is a real need for oral healthcare, and unless something changes, we’re going to continue seeing issues that impact not only people, but amount massive cost for our healthcare system,” Self explained. “This documentary is designed to help us educate policymakers and make a case for better resources.”

The documentary features health experts and providers presenting the problem of oral health disparities and sharing some of the solutions they’ve implemented with the limited resources they have.

“If you look at why people don’t go to the dentist, finance is the number one issue,” Self shares in the documentary. It’s made worse by the fact that “fewer than 40% of all dentists nationwide accept Medicaid due to low reimbursement rates.”

This issue of access is compounded by a lack of providers in rural areas, a lack of understanding of the importance of oral health in the larger health picture, and the tendency to overuse the emergency room for dental problems that could have been prevented.

“There are a lot of folks with a significant amount of disease, who have tried to find care but have been unable to for so long, that they give up and go to the emergency room,” Self explains in the documentary. “The cost of emergency room usage to our society is staggering.”

AppleTree director Michael Hegelson confirms that $50 million per year are wasted in Minnesota emergency rooms for preventable dental emergencies--a shocking sticker price when one considers that the state invests a total of $2 million in dental care now.

The documentary explores several programs and options that, when properly funded, set children and adults up for oral success. Mobile clinics, teledentistry, Critical Access Provider locations, integrating dental providers in primary care, and the use of Dental Hygienists and Dental Therapists can significantly increase the number of patients a practice can serve.

Self hopes that the documentary will help people understand that there are simple solutions that will make a significant impact in oral health care. “People don’t often think about oral health care, but it has this huge impact,” he said. He hopes that seeing the ways we can make a difference and understanding the cost of not acting will inspire policymakers to act and help everyday Minnesotans feel seen.

“I was excited to have an opportunity to capture information in a way that might resonate with other people,” he said.

Uncovered: Minnesota’s Dental Emergency will premiere again on TPT February 14, or is available for streaming online any time. Learn more about ways to watch the documentary.