How can we better serve SW Minnesota?

Research by Southwest Marketing Advisory Center

The Minnesota Oral Health Project continually tries to learn about the community so that we can work with local groups to teach caregivers about healthy teeth. We all know that oral health starts at birth and healthy habits that are started when a child is young stops cavities from starting. Children often continue with these good oral health habits for life.

In 2016, the MN Oral Health Project asked the Southwest Marketing Advisory Center from Southwest Minnesota State University, to study education about oral health and applying fluoride to children’s teeth. The goal was to improve how caregivers, physicians and dentists work together to improve oral health of children.

To better understand the situation, five focus groups were held along with a meeting with doctors and a meeting with dentists.

Finding a dentist. It was highlighted in the focus groups that Caucasian people had insurance and transportation which allowed them to visit the dentist at least once a year. Hispanics, Somalian, Hmong and Karen people struggled finding a dental clinic that took their insurance, especially in the city of Marshall, MN. If Somalian and Karen people did find a dentist, they did not have transportation to get to the appointment.

Fluoride. The people in the groups were aware of various ways they get fluoride during the day, but they didn’t know how much they were getting. They were curious as to if they were getting enough or not. Hmong people, on the other hand, were less aware of fluoride and its purpose; however, they have heard of fluoride. Fluoride varnish was a new idea for almost all of the people in the groups. Having fluoride varnish applied by doctors was seen as a benefit for the Somalian, Hispanic, Hmong and Karen people, but was seen as unusual and almost an insult to dentists by the Caucasian people. This is because they have a family dentist they visit frequently. If this was not the situation, they could see how this idea would be useful. None of the people in the groups knew about MN Oral Health Project.


  • Caucasian participants all had health insurance and easy transportation to visit the dentist at least once a year.
  • Hispanic, Karen, Hmong and Somalian participants’ insurance plans are not accepted by most dental clinics in Marshall MN. This means they have to travel long distances to visit a dentist that would see them.
  • Travel is very difficult for Karen and Somalian participants.
  • Hispanics, Somalians, and Karen often could not understand the language.
  • All participants were not aware of how much fluoride they are getting daily.
  • Most of the participants had never heard of dental caries or thought it was the same as cavities.
  • Most participants do not feel that cavities are a normal part of a person’s life, but they do happen. They need to try to prevent cavities.
  • Hmong people were the group that felt cavities were a normal part of life.
  • Fluoride varnish was a new subject for the people in the groups.
  • Not everyone agreed about having a doctor apply fluoride varnish to a patient’s teeth.
  • Caucasians were not as interested in doctors applying fluoride because they already had a dentist.
  • Hispanics, Somalians, Hmong and Karen liked the idea of having dental and doctor care in one place.
  • The people in the groups were not aware of the MN Oral Health Project.
  • Dentists tell parents that the best way to protect children’s teeth is through fluoride treatments.
  • The dentists would work with doctors to have them apply fluoride varnish.
  • Fluoride varnish is done at all well-child visits at Avera in Marshall, MN.
  • Doctors have many measures that they must do at well-child visits. Fluoride is not required at this point in time.
  • Information learned at the focus groups provide us with good information about our community and we know that other communities may be the same. We want our community to know about how cavities and tooth decay happen and how to prevent cavities.