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Boreal Community Media

Profiles in Service: Cook County Community Foundation salutes The Oral Health Task Force

Oct 08, 2020 04:26AM ● By Editor

Photos:  Oral Health Task Force


From the Cook County Community Foundation - October 7, 2020

Cook County is blessed to having many passionate and dedicated non-profit organizations that work hard to enhance the lives of the people who live here.  This month, the Cook County Community Foundation is partnering with Boreal Community Media to salute many of its past grant recipients and how they have put those dollars to work to help make our community a better place to live.  

You can make a difference too – make your tax deductible donation to the Cook County Community Foundation by sending your check to Cook County Community Fund, P.O. Box 763, Grand Marais, MN 55604 or by following this link to make an on-line donation:


By Paul Nelson of the Oral Health Task Force

In 2012, our town dentist Dr. Alyssa Hedstrom and NSHCF board member Paul Nelson asked representatives of the Cook County health care community to help find a solution to an oral health crisis among the children of Cook County and the Grand Portage Reservation. 

With the help of committee members from the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, Cook County Public Health and Human Services, the NSHCF, the Grand Portage Health Service and Dr. Hedstrom we created a simple goal: To ensure that every child in Cook County and on the Reservation had access to complete oral health care, regardless of their parents’ or caregivers’ ability to pay.

To make that happen, we applied for funding from a number of foundations. The Cook County Community Fund immediately stepped up to help and has continued to do so. 


While we first tried to help children from 18 months to 18 years, we’ve expanded that to include pre-natal mom’s and newborns plus young people from 19 to 26. And while we first tried to help children with existing dental problems, we realized we needed to educate parents and children on proper oral health care, to ensure that from birth on children would be able to avoid having oral health issues in the first place.

The results have been significant: 

We do an annual oral screening for every child in the county and on the reservation, in all our schools, daycares, preschool, Headstart, WIC and ECFE. Any dental problems found are reported to the parents. And we are prepared to help them with any barriers they have to bringing their child to the dentist, be it financial, transportation, or any other barrier.  

While we continue with the screenings to find oral health problems, we now spend more time and funding on education and prevention. We also offer free well testing for fluoride and free fluoride treatments in the schools, clinic and all other locations noted above. 

The resulting oral health of our children has been dramatically affected: We track the number of encounters we have with our children and parents each year, each “encounter” meaning helping a child with dental care, education, or transportation to the dentist. We also include our encounters with parents for oral health education, financial aid or any other related issues.

The results:

  • In 2014, we had 77 encounters. In 2018, 1552 encounters. 
  • Of the 77 children we saw in 2014, 25% had cavities. By 2018, now caring for over 500 children, we have cut the cavity rate in half, to 12.5%. 
  • Further, the severity of those oral health problems was similarly reduced: The average dental bill in 2018 was 36% less than in 2014. 

We continue to expand our program to provide more oral health services and education to our community and are very grateful to the Cook County Community Fund for their continued support in making this possible.


Watch a video about the Oral Health Task Force here

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