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Installation of the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition’s Board of Directors and Election of Executive Officers

The Minnesota Oral Health Coalition is proud to announce the 2014 Board of Directors and Executive committee. Board members were elected by coalition membership in early November via Vovici software. Executive officers were installed on January 10th, 2014 during the winter board meeting held at the TIES Headquarters in St. Paul.


  • President Sarah Wovcha, JD, MPH
  • Vice President Carl Ebert, DDS
  • Treasurer Suzanne M. Beatty, DDS
  • Secretary Connie Bye, LPN


  • Eileen Crespo, MD
  • Eric Elmquist, DDS
  • Forrest Flint
  • Jane Patrick
  • Jeanne Edevold Larson, MS
  • Jessica Flotterud, RDH
  • Cathy L. Jacobson
  • Patricia Tarren, BDS, MPhil
  • Deb Bernier, RDH
  • Erica Gosso, RDH, BSDH, MDH
  • Tom Fields
  • Merry Jo Thoele, MPH, RDH

The Journey to the Dental Profession through the Early Decision Rural Dentistry Program

Written by Dr. Naty Lopez, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry

When do young students start thinking about pursuing dentistry as a profession and practicing in a rural area? Five students from rural communities who were recently selected for the Early Decision Rural Dentistry Program (EDRDTP) share their journey. Their stories show that a practicing rural dentist played a significant role in their journey and that growing up in a rural area opened their eyes to the oral health needs around them.

Mattchew Hanowski

Matthew Hanowski grew up on a hobby farm in Little Falls, MN where he developed an interest in fixing things from his father’s shop in the woods. He enjoyed working with his hands so much that he decided early on that he would not want to be stuck behind a desk; he would rather be doing something with his hands.

Matthew knows that Little Falls is fortunate to have a local dentist but he is aware that many rural farming communities do not have a dentist nearby and they do not have the time to drive over one hundred miles round trip for a routine dental check-up. He shadowed several dentists where he witnessed the difference dentists make in a patient’s life. His dream is to have a dental practice in a rural community and to travel to nearby rural communities where there is no dentist to provide convenient, adequate, friendly dental care that everyone deserves. Matthew is currently a third year student at St. John’s University. His mentor is Dr. Gregory Hubbard of Little Falls.

Gretchen Klescher

Gretchen Kletscher grew up with individuals with special needs who taught her patience, understanding and care-giving skills. In high school she helped with the Special Olympics in her community and developed a passion to help special needs persons with oral health needs to improve their smile. She shadowed with Dr. Daniel Rose who cared for patients with special needs. She observed Dr. Rose treat patients in the hospital operating room as well as in his private practice. Gretchen became increasingly aware of the needs in rural communities: the high unemployment rates in Cass County, for example, that leaves many citizens unable to receive proper dental care. Gretchen wants to work with a rural dental program that will make dental care affordable and accessible in Cass County. Gretchen is a second year student at the College of St. Scholastica and Dr. Daniel Rose is her mentor.

Taylor Mikkalson

Taylor Mikkalson loved going to the dentist. As a triplet, she was different from her brother and sister. She always loved the feeling of running her tongue across her freshly polished teeth and pick out the prize for being well-behaved during her appointment. She shadowed two rural dentists from her hometown and realized that they are much more than doctors who provide their patients with healthy teeth. These two dentists knew all of their patients on a personal level and truly cared for their overall health. However, they are reaching the point of retirement within the next ten to fifteen years. Taylor is passionate about continuing the work of these two dentists in her community in the future because she knows many people in her town as well as those in the surrounding area will continue to need care. Her mentors are Dr. Winkle and Dr. Spiten. She is currently enrolled at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.

Jamie St Marie

Jamie St. Marie currently resides in Apple Valley but she and her family travel to Zumbrota, MN where she grew up, to see Dr. Christensen for their dental check-ups. She decided to pursue dentistry when she was twelve years old after a painful experience with another dentist. In Dr. Christensen, Jamie saw that it takes a special type of person to be a dentist and to practice dentistry in a rural community. Jamie saw the challenges that a rural community face: in accessing dental care, in the lack of education on proper dental hygiene, and self-employed farmers who are either un-insured or under-insured. Looking into the future she sees herself collaborating with community leaders to develop programs to provide affordable care for her community. Jamie is a student at the University of North Dakota. Her mentor is Dr. Andrew Christensen.

Jake Wagner

Jake Wagner of Blue Earth, MN was awarded the “Triple A” award for excellence in academics, arts and athletic in high school. He learned at an early age to face challenges and overcome difficulties and to persevere in order to achieve one’s goals. He writes, “I am immensely thankful for the hardships that I endured because they gave me perspective on life at an early age.” He sees that his past difficulties directly relate to the challenges that dentists face on a daily basis because they never fully know what they will be faced with or what sort of personality type will enter their practice. Jake also thinks that he will have the ability to connect with his patients because he recognizes the difficulties some people experience during different stages in their lives. Jake sees the needs in Blue Earth. He spoke with a retired dentist who told him that in 1956 there were sixteen dentists who served in the county but today there are only four, with two of these dentists working only part-time. Additionally, the dentist who serves the majority of patients in Blue Earth is nearing retirement. Jake is confident that he has the ability to make an impact and reverse these problems after he graduates from dental school. Jake is a sophomore at St. John’s University. His mentor is Dr. Roger Grandgenett of Blue Earth, MN.

Students in the EDRDP are given a provisional acceptance to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and are expected to complete all course prerequisites and electives for the DDS application, maintain the expected science and overall GPA and DAT scores, and continue shadowing a rural dentist and undertake a project in oral health in their rural community in collaboration with their mentors during summer sessions.

CDC School Based / School Linked Dental Sealant Cost Analysis Project

Minnesota is one of 5 states (Virginia, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nevada) participating in the School Based/School Linked Dental Sealant Cost Analysis project with CDC. The project team includes Susan Griffin, Dawn Arlotta, Kari Jones and Shilpa Naval of the CDC.

Minnesota was invited to participate because it has been identified by the CDC as being advanced in using sealant cost analysis tools developed by the CDC. The purpose of the project is to simplify the cost calculation methodology in the Sealant Efficiency Assessment for Locals and States Users’ Manual. CDC economists on the project will calculate the cost of equipment and the percentage that will be applied to the final cost of delivering a sealant.

The project seeks to develop methodology that will provide cost estimates per resource unit so that state programs do not have to do this on their own. For example, instead of requiring programs to provide the cost of a portable dental sealant unit and then to estimate the annual cost, the “cost calculator” will provide the annual cost for various pieces of equipment by manufacturer.

CDC has been given resources to work on simplifying the cost calculations.  The MN Oral Health Program first completed a questionnaire in collaboration with sealant program grantees (June 20) to help CDC ensure they are including all relevant costs and then participated in a group conference call with the other states in the project.  Once the CDC’s “cost calculator” is prepared, Minnesota will have the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the final product.

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation logo

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation Funds Minnesota Oral Health Coalition

MINNEAPOLIS (July 15, 2013) - Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation has awarded $300,000 to the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition (MOHC) to support the coalition’s infrastructure and activities over the next three years. MOHC is a membership-based organization dedicated to promoting sound public oral health programs and policies in Minnesota. It was established in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Oral Health Program and helped produce the state’s first-ever Oral Health Plan: Advancing Optimal Oral Health for All Minnesotans. MOHC has a 14 member Board of Directors, with 165 active community members from across the state and representing a variety of backgrounds and diverse organizations. Currently MOHC relies upon the volunteer commitments of its board of directors, stakeholders and members.

“The Minnesota Oral Health Coalition is well positioned to make an impact on the Foundation’s priority of improving the oral health of Minnesotans,” said Ann Johnson, Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation Executive Director and MOHC board member. “In order to maximize the impact, the Coalition needs to transition from all volunteer leadership to having paid staff dedicated to supporting the coalition membership and activities.”

MOHC intends to improve oral health in Minnesota through advocacy, public awareness, education and leadership development. Activities of the grant will include hiring staff and helping implement the Minnesota Oral Health Plan, with an immediate focus on education and outreach about the benefits and potential cost savings of community water fluoridation.

“The Minnesota Oral Health Plan is ambitious and we have a great deal of work to do,” said Deb Jacobi, board president for MOHC. “At this important moment for oral health in Minnesota, we couldn’t be more grateful to Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation for their support.”

The Minnesota Oral Health Plan serves as a five-year roadmap for future activities and includes four priority areas:

  1. Public Health Infrastructure
  2. Prevention and Education
  3. Health Care Integration and Access to Oral Health Care
  4. Surveillance

Using the framework of the State Oral Health Plan, working groups based on the seven goals of the plan have been launched that include participants from across the state and embody an approach for building strong community involvement and relationships.

“A strong oral health coalition will bring stakeholders together to help Minnesota achieve its oral health goals," said Merry Jo Thoele, dental director of the Minnesota Department of Health's Oral Health Program. "This grant from Delta Dental will be foundational in its impact and will enable the coalition to achieve its full potential to improve oral health in Minnesota.”

About Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation – Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation is designed to support Delta Dental of Minnesota's mission of improving the oral health of the people in Minnesota. The Foundation will focus on improving access to oral health for people living in Minnesota, with special attention to increasing access among underserved persons, groups and communities as well as ideas and programs that provide innovative, long-term, sustainable solutions.

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation was formed out of the proceeds of the 2009 sale of the dental benefit management company, DeCare Dental. Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation had assets of approximately $92 million and granted about $2 million in 2012.

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Delta Dental is a registered mark of Delta Dental Plans Association. Delta Dental of Minnesota is an independent nonprofit dental services company and is an authorized licensee of the Delta Dental Plans Association of Oak Brook, Illinois. For more information, visit www.deltadentalmn.org

Minnesota Named to Medicaid Oral Health Learning Collaborative

Center for Health Care Strategies logoThe Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently launched the National Oral Health Initiative (OHI) to support states in improving children’s oral health care access. The OHI, which calls for each state to develop a pediatric Oral Health Action Plan aims to increase the proportion of children enrolled in Medicaid who receive a preventive dental service and increase the proportion of children ages 6-9 enrolled in Medicaid who receive a dental sealant on a permanent molar.

To help states improve oral health care access and outcomes for these high-risk children, the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) launched the Medicaid Oral Health Learning Collaborative, with support from the DentaQuest Foundation. CHCS selected teams from seven states to participate in this learning collaborative initiative. Minnesota, along with Arizona, California, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, and Washington are participating in peer-to-peer learning, as well as individual and group technical assistance from national experts in oral health quality improvement. CHCS will support these states in meeting the OHI oral health care access goals. Lessons learned from the participating states, including lessons learned in Minnesota, will be shared broadly to aid additional states in advancing children's oral health access.

Merry Jo Thoele, MPH, RDH, Dental Director, Minnesota Oral Health Program, Minnesota Department of Health and Julie Marquardt, Deputy Director, Health Care Purchasing and Service Delivery, Minnesota Department of Human Services participated in the initial launch of the Medicaid Oral Health Learning Collaborative in Baltimore, Maryland, May 20-21, 2013. The collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Health of the Minnesota Department of Human Services is especially important to meeting the oral health needs of Minnesota’s children.

Although oral health care is included in Medicaid's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment benefit for children, less than half of the nation's 30 million Medicaid-enrolled children receive any dental service in a given year. In Minnesota, 59% of children with Medicaid coverage did not receive any dental services by or under the supervision of a dentist during Federal Fiscal Year 2011. Barriers to oral health care access in this population include low rates of oral health care provider participation in Medicaid; the reluctance of oral health care providers to treat young children; insufficient awareness of dental benefits among Medicaid-enrolled families; and literacy and cultural barriers. By participating in the Medicaid Oral Health Learning Collaborative, Minnesota will gain knowledge to improve access to and utilization of oral health services for children enrolled in Medicaid, resulting in better oral health and overall health for our children.

Senate Resolution Congratulates ADHA on 100th Anniversary of Dental Hygiene

The United States Senate unanimously approved Senate Resolution 182 congratulating the American Dental Hygienists’ Association on its 100th anniversary of the profession on Friday, June 21, 2013. Minnesota Senator Al Franken joined Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, Senators Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio to submit this resolution marking the importance of dental hygiene in the US.

child getting dental xray

MDH Creates First X-ray Regulatory Guide for Dental X-ray Units

MDH Radiation Control X-ray Unit protects and promotes radiation safety through guidance and collaboration with the radiation community.  In order to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure from the use of ionizing radiation producing equipment, MDH has published the first X-ray Regulatory Guide for Dental X-ray Units.  The guide is designed to describe the type and extent of a radiation safety program necessary for compliance with the Minnesota Rules Chapter 4732 for use of x-ray equipment in a dental office.  For more information about x-ray safety and to view the new dental x-ray guide, visit X-ray Dental Facilities.

The MDH Oral Health Program Proudly Announces New Staff

Communications CoordinatorAbigail Franklin, MPH, joins the Oral Health Program as the Communications Coordinator.  In 2009, Abbie earned her MPH in Public Health Administration and Policy with a concentration in Global Health from the University of Minnesota.  She has great experience creating educational materials and implementing outreach activities. Most recently, Abbie was a program planner for the Newborn & Child Follow-up Unit at MDH where she coordinated statewide trainings for local public health partners, created parent and provider educational materials, and developed website content.  She has experience as a classroom teacher as a Patient Educator at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and as an English Teacher in the US Peace Corps (Moldova, 2000-2004).  Abbie has a strong interest in health literacy and cultural responsiveness.  She is using her skills to support the Oral Health Program in its education and communications activities.

Clare LarkinAs the Oral Health Program Prevention Coordinator, Clare Larkin, RDH MSEd, is utilizing her vast oral health knowledge and connections to the community to move school-based dental sealant and community water fluoridation efforts forward for the state of Minnesota.  A licensed dental hygienist, Clare has extensive clinical experience gained in private practice and periodontal specialty offices.  Most recently, Clare held an unlimited full time faculty position in dental hygiene at Normandale Community College.  From 2003 to 2013, in addition to dental hygiene clinic, Clare taught the topics of head and neck anatomy, special needs dental client care, and community dental health for the dental hygienist.  Clare currently holds a Community Faculty position with the Metropolitan State University / Normandale Community College dental hygiene degree completion program.  She teaches a course titled Current and Relevant Topics for the Dental Hygienist. For 5 years, Clare was theDental Health Educator for Public Health Service of Goodhue and Wabasha Counties where she coordinated the school-based fluoride mouthrinse programs for all elementary schools in the two-county area. Clare now supports the school-based dental sealant grant program and community water fluoridation activities within MDH Oral Health Program.

Student Interns Support Oral Health Program Activities

Dr. Sahiti Bhaskara is a dentist by training currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Sahiti joins the Oral Health Program as a student worker to assist the team in implementing strategies from the Minnesota Oral Health Plan for tobacco control, tobacco cessation, and referral. She is also analyzing data to assess the costs associated with emergency room use for non-traumatic and preventable dental conditions. In addition to projects with the Oral Health Program, Sahiti is working with the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care to evaluate the impact of dental therapists on access to oral health care in Minnesota.

Dr. Peter Okwerekwu holds a degree in Dental Surgery from the University of Lagos. He practiced dentistry in rural and urban Nigeria. Peter is currently pursuing his Masters in Public Health in Public Health Administration and Policy at the University of Minnesota. As a student worker with the Oral Health Program, Peter is focused on determining the distribution of dental workforce in Minnesota and is developing data collection methods for the school-based sealant program. In addition, Peter is assisting the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition to implement strategies from the state oral health plan related to cultural responsiveness and diversity in dental health workforce.

Updated Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 03:13PM