In 2015, Caring for Colorado embarked on a journey designed to change the way dental care is delivered in communities throughout Colorado. Our goal was to deliver care that works for people who had been left out of the traditional dental care system by using the oral health workforce differently. We wanted to eliminate barriers to care and ultimately improve access and outcomes for patients.
With these goals in mind, Caring for Colorado convened health policy leaders, dental professionals and community stakeholders to discuss different models of care being implemented across the United States. As a result of these convenings, consensus built around the idea that Colorado would pilot test the Virtual Dental Home model. This model, developed at the University of the Pacific, expands the scope of care for dental hygienists and places them in community settings to provide both preventive and restorative care via a telehealth connected system of care.
When this decision was made, the SMILES Dental Project™ - Spanning Miles in Linking Everyone to Services - was born and grew into a five-year, $4.7 million initiative, funded jointly by Caring for Colorado Foundation and The Colorado Health Foundation.
While the concept of moving some oral health services out of the dental clinic and into the community is not new, using a telehealth connected dental team to provide a dental home in a community setting is a very new idea. The SMILES Dental Project uses telehealth technology to allow people to receive a risk assessment, x-rays, an oral exam and a health history in a community setting, all of which can be reviewed remotely by a dentist. That dentist then provides a treatment plan to the community-based dental hygienist who delivers both preventive care and some treatment services using interim therapeutic restorations (ITR). This system also allows for a connection between the patient, the dental hygienist and the dentist, with the option to receive more complex restorative treatment in a dental clinic when necessary. The goal of the model is for the patient to eventually receive all services in the community and to maintain oral health through ongoing preventive care.
Through the SMILES Dental Project, Caring for Colorado Foundation has partnered with five non-profit organizations to evaluate this new workforce model for patient and provider satisfaction, financial sustainability, improved patient outcomes and the ability to scale the model beyond the demonstration projects.
This website contains seven chapters that serve as a roadmap to support communities in implementing the virtual dental home model. Each chapter provides information and resources for communities as they begin this journey to implement an innovative new model of oral health care.
- Dental AidProvides services to adults in Boulder County at a community mental health center, a supportive housing complex and a senior center.
- Summit Community Care ClinicProvides services to school-aged children in Summit, Lake and Park counties. In future years, services will be expanded into Chaffee and Grand counties.
- Salud Family Health CentersPartners with schools in Morgan County to deliver dental services to elementary and middle school children. The program will expand into the six-county northeast Colorado region over time.
- Tri-County Health NetworkProvides services for school-aged children in Telluride and Naturita. Future growth will include other schools in San Miguel, Dolores, Ouray and Montrose counties.
- Mountain Family Health CentersProvides school-based services for children from pre-school through grade 12 in Parachute and Avon.
- Map of SMILES Partner Locations (PDF)