Dr. Pamela Valenza smiles when the retrofitted room at Clinica Tepeyac with little cartoon animals comes up in conversation.
Just a few minutes later, her face lit up as she walked into the room.
“This room has been completely rebuilt,” Valenza, the Chief Health Officer at Clinica Tepeyac, said this week. “All the cabinetry is new and every piece of equipment in here is new as well.”
This room represents a next step for the Clinica Tepeyac, which has been offering health care services primarily to Latinos for 25 years and is set to expand to a new, larger space.
Within a month, the community’s only dental clinic will be fully operational at their current location on Lincoln Street, expanding on some of the basic services they used to provide to full dental service.
It’s something the clinic’s screening questions revealed as a need for its patients.
“Most of the patients that we see coming in do not have dental care, have not seen a dentist,” Valenza said. “And so being able to provide that service on site, that’s co-located with their medical services, is something that didn’t exist, that they didn’t have before.”
The clinic will have a full-time hygienist after converting one of its rooms into a dental hygiene space available for all ages and backgrounds and those with or without medical insurance.
The new dental digs were purchased with a grant from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation. They provided a $124,114 grant to pay for things like a specialized chair, an x-ray machine and new computer equipment to access dental records.
The clinic primarily serves Spanish-speaking residents with incomes typically 200 percent below the Federal Poverty Line, according to Tepeyac. Valenza said 80 percent of patients are uninsured.
Megan Wilson, interim executive director at Delta, said the space required expensive equipment that goes beyond what the clinic’s current medical rooms already offer. Wilson said Delta has been a partner with Tepeyac for several years to help support their oral health programs.
Prior to the grant, Tepeyac had a part-time hygienist who was able to provide basic screening and observation services, Wilson said. The services will now expand to work like cleanings and procedures like using silver diamine fluoride, which is a non-invasive cavity treatment.
“Now, with these services on site in the clinic, when patients come here, they are really able to get full dental services versus more of a light touch,” Wilson said.
Current patients like Juana Maldonado, who has been a patient at Tepeyac for several years, said they’re considering using the dental facility, though she currently uses another clinic. But overall, she’s been happy with the support she’s received.
Even when they don’t have services available, Maldonado said, the clinic can usually provide good referrals.
“For me, you always need someone’s support or someone who can guide you,” Maldonado said in Spanish. “They give you the tools to be able to succeed.”
Wilson said studies have suggested Latinos tend to visit the dentist at lower rates than white patients. Some of this is due to barriers to accessing care, including what Wilson said are “culturally appropriate” services. Valenza said it’s always been the clinic’s mission to be culturally sensitive.
“Almost all of the staff here are bicultural,” Valenza said. “All staff are bilingual. So for patients who are Spanish-speaking only, which is about 89 to 90 percent of our patients right now, we are very focused on that community that we serve.”
Valenza said they have received funding to hire a supervisory dentist. She’s already getting applications for the position, which she said will end up working about 20 hours per week at the clinic.