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Tens of thousands of Missourians could soon have dental coverage

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For 11 years, Missouri has had a cavity in dental coverage, but that cavity could soon be filled.

Two-hundred-fifty-thousand Missourians on Medicaid, the state and federal health insurance program for low income residents, currently have medical coverage but not dental.

"They constantly decay because you can't go for regular dental check-ups and preventive dentistry," said Gregory McCall.

McCall says it's why he needed two teeth pulled at Seton Center, a clinic that provides discounts based on income. The director says many others on Medicaid haven't sought care because of the lack of coverage.

"They wait until the last minute when they are in terrible pain, have terrible infection, end up in an emergency room," said Sister Loretto Marie Colwell.

That's why she is excited that Medicaid coverage for dental is in the works. Missouri collected about $35 million in overdue taxes during an amnesty period, and that's enough to fund dental. The money could be flowing by April.

"I'm confident it will save money because people will not have so many serious medical problems," said Sister Loretto Marie.

She says the money the clinic will receive for Medicaid patients will result in more charity funds going to others who are still uninsured. She says it's unclear just how many Missourians can be treated on $35 million. Many may need expensive work.

"But over a period of time, people will come back on a routine basis and not have problems because they're getting routine work," said Sister Loretto Marie.

McCall just wishes he had coverage now.

"Now I have to have a full denture and it's not covered either," he said.

Even with discounts, he says it will be tough to afford the denture on his disability income of $700 a month.

Kansas covers basic cleanings, but generally not other dental care, under its Medicaid program called KanCare.