by Marcia Olson

The staff at Bridging the Dental Gap

The staff at Bridging the Dental Gap

Bridging the Dental Gap (BDG) is a little known non-profit dental clinic located in south Bismarck offering dental services to low income and Medicaid patients. It fills a niche in the Bismarck-Mandan area for those needing dental access for care.

The program is unique to North Dakota and nationwide it is one of just a handful of private non-profits with a stand-alone dental clinic. It is also unique in staffing, utilizing an all woman staff including the dentists at its core. Dr. Luger, Dr. Mertz and Dr. Schuetzle lead a dental team of 4 assistants, 2 hygienists, 2 front staff and 1 administrative assistant. Executive Director, Marcia Olson, serves as clinic manager, community outreach person and liaison to the managing volunteer Board of Directors. The Board of Directors establishes a budget, policy guidance and strategic planning.

Dr. Joanne Luger has served as the Dental Director since its opening in 2004. She has a varied background in public health dentistry. “Serving this population is very rewarding. The need is evident every day. There are frustrations at times, but the value and appreciation for what we do outweigh those moments,” states Dr. Luger.

The clinic was established through grants and donations. A major Bush grant was the funding source for the facility remodeling and initial equipment purchases. Community Development Block grants were made available to expand services and clinic space. BDG is not federally funded except thru Medicaid payments and occasional grants for specific projects. Medicaid payments, donations, private grants and patient fees remain the primary operational funding. Non Medicaid patients pay for services on a sliding fee scale based on gross income and federal poverty guidelines. BDG can provide services to anyone. For those individuals that do not qualify for a discount, BDG offers payment plan options for dental services. Basic care services are provided, consisting of:  fillings, extractions, some root canals, cleanings, root planning and scaling, minimal crowns, dentures — full and partials etc.  Services are limited to those who live within a 100 mile radius of Bismarck.

Dr. Sarah Mertz, Dr. Joanne Luger, Dr. Bethany Schuetzle

Dr. Sarah Mertz, Dr. Joanne Luger, Dr. Bethany Schuetzle

Dr. Sarah Mertz and Dr. Bethany Schuetzle joined the clinic last summer. Dr. Mertz id constantly amazed at what she sees. “Each day is so different and the number of people with tooth pain is surprising,” she said. “If Bridging the Dental Gap was not here, most of these people would have no place to go.”

Currently BDG handles 600 appointments per month and at least 15% are tooth pain emergencies. The patient mix is 44% Medicaid and 36% sliding fee and 20% full pay patients. There were 14,000 patients of record at the end of 2013. Patients range in age from 2 to 100. There are 24.81% age 2 thru 20; 59.25% are adults ages 21-62 and 15.9% are over age 62. Over 6 million dollars has been discounted since opening in the summer of 2004.

Two outreach programs were established from 2011 – 2012. Dentists and supporting staff provide dental services at four long term care facilities each month (two days at each location). A separate hygienist also helps with regular cleanings for patients on a quarterly basis. Additionally, in collaboration with Ronald McDonald House Charities, BDG has partnered to provide staffing and operations of a Dental Caremobile that brings services to children throughout the western half of North Dakota. This program addresses access issues for a vulnerable population and allows BDG to step outside its primary service area. The Caremobile is a state-of-the-art dental clinic on wheels. BDG supplies a dentist – Dr. Christine Peterson, an assistant and hygienist to manage this operation. The Caremobile runs 40 weeks of the year and is outbased two-thirds of that time. As Bridging the Dental Gap prepares to celebrate a 10 year anniversary, They also celebrate the dedicated women whose empathy and expertise have guided the growth and maintained the level of care at this unique dental clinic.

Contact them at or 701.221.0518. Bridging the Dental Gap is located at 1223 South 12th Street in Bismarck.

Marcia Olson is Executive Director of Bridging the Dental Gap