By Tamera Manzanares
Good oral hygiene habits and regular visits to a dental provider are vital to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But there is another prevention tool that we may not typically associate with dental care that can dramatically affect dental health. “Our emotional health touches every component of our health including our oral health,” explained Lilia Luna, a clinical psychologist at Northwest Colorado Health.
Luna leads a team of behavioral health specialists at Northwest Colorado Health’s clinics in Craig, Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek. They are available to help medical and dental patients work through emotional issues hindering their ability to manage or improve their health. Northwest Colorado Health accepts Medicaid and allows patients who don’t have insurance to pay on a sliding scale.
Some patients who have had very little dental care may have anxiety or fear of dental procedures or cope with self-esteem issues stemming from dental problems. Patients who choose to meet with a behavioral health specialist can often do so during their dental appointment. They can receive up to six follow up appointments after that initial visit.
Taking an active role in our health is not easy. Developing a routine around brushing and flossing, cutting back on sugary foods and quitting tobacco (if a person smokes or uses smokeless tobacco products) requires determination. Behavioral health specialists can help by connecting patients to their motivation to have healthier teeth and prevent infections. “We help them identify goals and obstacles and engage them in conversation about that,” Luna said. “We want to promote awareness of what is important to them so they have a clearer path toward achieving it.”
Dental care, like any medical service, is a good opportunity to gauge a patient’s emotional wellbeing. All dental patients complete a health questionnaire that screens for depression. Dental staff who have concerns about a patient will let them know about behavioral health support at the clinic and give them the option to meet with a specialist. Patients who decline receive a list of all mental health and crisis support in the community. “They know where they can get help,” Luna said. “We’re equipping people with tools and are on site to support them. This can be powerful and make a difference in all aspects of their health.”
Northwest Colorado Health provides dental services at four locations in Routt and Moffat counties. For more information or to make an appointment, call 970-824-8000.