Medical clinic has patients “open wide” for a different reason

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LEXINGTON, Mo. -- When you go for a medical check-up, you expect the doctor or nurse practitioner to look down your throat. Now patients at a clinic in Lexington are asked to "open wide" for another reason, too.

Lakewell Gordon's check-up starts with a look in her eyes. Gordon can hardly blink before the nurse practitioner dons gloves and looks in her mouth.

"Your teeth look very healthy," said Tina Moore.

Gordon said, "It was surprising. I was like so okay, what's going on here?"

Doctors said an oral health assessment is now part of a medical check-up. Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center in Lexington is one of the first medical clinics in the nation to combine the two. Doctors said they recognize the mouth is part of the body, and gum disease can lead to problems such as heart disease and premature births.

"When I see them routinely for medical visits, I can point out to them -- I see some conditions that are concerning me, and if you could get in, we can treat this early. It will be much less cost to you," said Moore as she referred to the dental clinic just down the hall.

The dental director who oversees the pilot program says many people who come for medical appointments don't routinely get dental care because they think they can't afford it.

"If you don't have insurance, based on your family size, your income, we can get you in and for a very low price get that dental problem taken care of right away before it becomes a huge problem," said Dr. Jamey Onnen.

Gordon's mouth looked fine, but she still got a fluoride varnish applied to her teeth to help prevent cavities.

"It's convenient and nice. It's like two stops in one," she said.

Dr. Onnen expects the program will expand to all of Samuel U. Rodgers' clinics in the next year. A grant from the REACH Healthcare Foundation helped get the program started.