Family Health Center expands to accommodate dental needs in community

The Family Health Center (FHC) is getting to the root of a significant health need in the community--the absence of dental care for low-income families. "Historically, dental health has been one of the biggest health care needs in Kalamazoo County," says Denise Crawford, president and CEO of FHC. 

According to 2009 statistics from Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services, 22 percent of Kalamazoo County adults did not go to the dentist in the previous year. Those looking to cut health care costs often skip dental health--more than one in four adults didn’t visit the dentist for financial reasons.

This is especially true among African Americans (37.5 percent), people of low income (55 percent of people earning $20,000-$34,999 annually) and people with less education (32 percent of high school graduates without a college degree). 

Currently, the Family Health Center serves a little more than 17 percent  of their patient's dental needs. The expansion of the FHC services should change that, drastically. Crawford says that, before FHC’s expansion, FHC had just two full-time dentists, as did KCHCS. "We target 62,000 underserved people in Kalamazoo County for health care, and we have 36,000 active patients," she says. "We simply didn’t have the dental care capacity our community needed. Now that’s changing.”

This year the Family Health Center hired a chief dental officer and come 2017, it will unveil its largest dental health operation when the new Alcott Health Center campus opens. 

FHC's new chief dental officer,  Dr. Lisandra Soto, is a native of Fajardo, Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, Dr. Soto dedicated much of her professional career working with underserved populations. She received her Dental Medicine Doctor degree and completed her residency in Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Dentistry. 

She is Board Certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, has a master’s degree in Public Health and a post-graduate certificate in Public Administration from Michigan State University. A resident of Kalamazoo since 1997, Soto is one of only 80 pediatric dentists in Michigan. Dr. Soto has been Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services (KCHCS) Lead Dentist since 2010, and previously from 2003 to 2007.

Dr. Soto believes in the importance of oral health literacy and dental health access because oral health is about more than good looking teeth. Dr. Soto says, "Good oral health can help identify and head off many serious conditions." 

In addition to better oral health, research shows that regular dental care can help identify and improve general health issues. Things like gum disease have been linked to heart disease, strokes, and other conditions, and many other diseases can show up as oral symptoms. 

Lack of access to dental care can also affect children’s growth, development, and academic performance. Integrating dental health services into existing health care services for low-income families and individuals can lower health risks and make health care services even more effective.

Dr. Soto accepted the Chief Dental Officer position with the Family Health Center in June of 2016. Presently, she works with the FHC on a part time basis, juggling her roles between there and Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services. In her dual roles, she will ensure a smooth transition of the closing the KCHCS dental facilities, move interested staff to the FHC, and secure a collaborative agreement with the University of Michigan (FHC hosts fourth year dental students on rotation) before shifting all of her efforts, completely, to FHC in 2017.

The Family Health Center’s current dental program serves pediatric and adult patients, with locations on North Burdick, Portage Street, and East Centre Street. When the Alcott campus opens in early 2017, that facility will have 25 dental stations and provide services six days a week, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  

On Dec. 2, Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services (KCHCS) dental clinic on Gull Road closed and shifted its services to the Family Health Center. Also in December, FHC will acquire the Mobile unit from KCHCS and will lease the dental clinic until Alcott opens.

Once the Alcott location opens, the FHC dental locations will be Alcott, the main dental site (with 25 dental chairs), Burdick (with five chairs), Centre (with two chairs), and the mobile unit serving the schools.

Dr. Soto says, "Alcott will provide the capability to further expand dental care to include full and partial dentures, simple crowns, and endodontics." The FHC has hired five full-time dentists to accommodate the expansion. Of those, four already have started and one will start in January.

Current dental patients of Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services can have their dental records transferred to FHC or to another dentist of their choosing by contacting KCHCS at (269) 373-5217.

Family Health Center accepts Medicaid payment in full. A sliding fee scale is available for those without insurance and appointments are available by calling the FHC at (269) 349-2641.

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer, living in Kalamazoo. You can find her at her website,
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.