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Free Dental Clinic Finds Huge Need In Bloomington-Normal

A studio picture of Mike Romagnoli
Charlie Schlenker
Community Healthcare Clinic Director Mike Romagnoli is nine months into his new job as director, though he has been with the clinic for fifteen years.

The head of the Community Health Care Clinic said six months into operations of the new dental clinic they are only scratching the surface of filling the need for tooth care for low-income people in the Twin Cities.

The dental division of the clinic opened in February with donations of equipment from retiring Doctors Foehr and Nayak.

Community Health Care Clinic Director Mike Romagnoli said they have now served 160 dental patients with 600 visits. That compares to 1,200 clinic patients in all. The McLean County Health Department runs a dental care program for low-income children. And many dentists in the community take some referrals for free care for those who cannot pay.

Romagnoli said there are strong links between chronic disease and dental care and to ordinary infections and other health outcomes are getting better as a result of the new dental program.

"On a couple of our patients, you take a tooth out and all of a sudden all their sinus problems go away. We are seeing firsthand what the research has proven," said Romagnoli.

Romagnoli said the clinic is also starting a cooperative venture with Heartland Community College to provide dental assistant students with clinical experience.

Romagnoli said many patients have not had dental care for a couple decades and it takes numbing medication and four visits to clean their teeth enough to get enough plaque off to be ready for six-month checkups.

"Because it is uncomfortable to take off 20 years of plaque. It's like cement. Basically, it is the tartar and plaque that is holding the tooth in place. So, once you get it cleaned, now that tooth is loose," said Romagnoli.

Romanogli said they hope other health outcomes will improve as dental care gets better. For instance, he said diabetics who have few teeth might not be able to eat the healthy diets of unprocessed meet, vegetables, and fruit because they do not have enough chewing surface. With partial or full dentures provided by the clinic, he said their conditions may get better.

The clinic offers caps, crowns, cleanings, fillings, and everything up to full dentures.

The clinic has been operating for 25 years.

You can also listen to the full interview:

Full interview with Community Health Care Clinic director Mike Romagnoli

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WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.