Sarrell, DentaQuest partner to address U.S. oral health crisis

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Sarrell Dental, the Alabama-based nonprofit that provides oral care for low-income children on Medicaid, is teaming up with the DentaQuest Care Group to come up with ways to improve oral health across the U.S. by providing more access to dental care.

"This is about two nonprofits coming together to advance a shared mission to improve oral health," Sarrell Dental CEO Jeff Parker told "Sarrell has worked hard to offer access to dental care to those who would otherwise not have access in Alabama. DentaQuest is an enterprise devoted to improving the oral health of all. We are a good match."

“The need to improve access to care is critical.”
— Jeff Parker, CEO, Sarrell Dental

Parker will be the CEO of DentaQuest Healthcare Delivery.

"This signals an important moment for us to explore opportunities to advance cost-effective, quality-focused ways to improve access to care," said DentaQuest CEO Fay Donohue. "This affiliation allows both organizations to work together to improve access to care for underserved populations. That is our main goal."

Founded in 2004, Sarrell now treats 300,000 children annually at its 15 clinics across Alabama and is the largest single provider of Medicaid dental services in the state.

"We are acutely aware that millions of children are not getting access to the oral care they need, and we want to change that," Parker said.

The company was lauded at a U.S. Senate hearing earlier this month as an example of how dental providers can use innovative strategies to provide greater access to care for underserved communities. The hearing was called by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), who submitted the Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2013, which aims to expand dental coverage, create new access points, enhance the workforce of dental professionals, improve education, and provide funding for new research.

Sarrell also hosted dental leaders from across the U.S. in April as part of the National Oral Health Conference.

"The need to improve access to care is critical," Parker said. "Many children and adults simply do not have access to the care they need. It is incumbent on all of us to look at everything we do to create solutions to this serious problem."

Sarrell has reduced its average reimbursement rate per patient visit from $328 in 2005 to an industry low of $125 in 2012, the company said. The clinics were featured on PBS' "Frontline" in the 2012 documentary "Dollars and Dentists," which offered it as a positive example of dental chains.

However, Sarrell has also clashed with the Alabama Dental Association over concerns about competition. Tom Willis, DMD, former president of the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners, acknowledged that the conflict partially stemmed from dentists' efforts to protect their turf.

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