New Dental Clinic Bolsters Access for D.C.’s Low-Income Patients

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Dentist Steven Myles shows how he is able to access a patient's medical records during appointments in Bread for the City's new dental clinic.

It’s been more than a decade since Florence Sandridge has been to a dentist. Now, the 80-year-old needs a plate put in her mouth.

“Usually the dentist is so expensive,” she said. That’s why last week she went to the ribbon-cutting of a free dental clinic for low-income D.C. residents.

The Bread for the City single-room clinic — with its green walls, new equipment and a couple of dentist chairs — fills a big gap. There are few options for low-income D.C. residents. Those on Medicare, Medicaid or signed up with D.C. Health Alliance receive some dental coverage. There are also a few other free dental clinics in the city — such as one run by nonprofit So Others Might Eat — and a mobile dental clinic that makes stops throughout the city. “But there just aren’t enough services,” said Kristin Valentine, Bread for the City’s development director. Dental care is consistently the most requested service among the Bread for the City’s clients.

Even those with dental coverage don’t regularly see a dentist; about half of low-income adults with coverage haven’t been to the dentist in at least a year, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report. The reasons vary. Some have problems finding dentists who accept Medicaid. Out-of-pocket costs for those under private and public plans may be too expensive for families. Other issues keep low-income adults from getting dental care, such as lack of transportation, child care and work arrangements and cultural barriers, according to the Kaiser report.

Joan Carson, 56, is a Bread for the City client who serves on the nonprofit’s advisory board. She said it’s difficult to find dentists who accept Medicare and Medicaid. Another advisory board member and client, 54-year-old Deborah Branch, said she was thankful for the clinic, which has been a long time coming.

“A lot of people, especially older people, can’t afford [dental services], especially if you don’t have transportation,” Branch said. “It costs so much that they go without. They don’t have no other choice. What are they going to do?”

The dental clinic is part of a larger, nearly $7 million campaign to expand Bread for the City. A new medical clinic opened in late 2010 and the dental clinic is housed in one of its spare rooms. The cost to start the clinic and run it for a year comes to about $280,000, which came from a BlueCross BlueShield grant and private donations.

Bread for the City’s medical director Randi Abramson said the need for accessible dental care is “enormous.”

“There is a close relationship between dental health and overall health,” Abramson said. Problems can be serious, such as the untreated infection that caused the death of 12-year-old Prince George’s County boy in 2007. They can be minor as well; bad teeth can make it too difficult to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, contributing to other health issues over a long period of time.

“But then there’s this whole self-esteem issue,” Abramson added. Some people don’t want to smile, or feel ashamed of their teeth. That can even make it difficult to job hunt for those who feel self conscious about their appearance.

“They all can’t wait to get an appointment with a dentist,” she said of Bread for the City’s clients. “It’s not that they don’t want it or don’t understand how important it is.”

  • DC_Talk_gurl8872

    We are in need of more community dental clinics across our nation. Corporate ADA has power and money to change the current dental care delivery system for the better if Americans would speak out against the American Dental Associations deceiving and pacifying public relations campaign for a better public image.The American Dental Association’s lack of leadership, mismanagement, and decades of irreversible trends, some being history while others continue today; is the leading factor for unmet dental needs in our nation. These trends and policies include racial and gender discrimination, unnecessary extractions and placement of dentures as a treatment plan, mandated and excessive use of fluoride, the use of mercury in restorations and ADA policies which prevent Americans from receiving oral healthcare by suppressing qualified competitors that provide oral health services to those with disparities. The American Dental Association works against its own vision and mission statement by suppressing competition that has been trained and educated in providing oral health care services to those that are unable to pay the high prices charged by dentist, leaving Americans without needed dental care.The American Dental Association’s waste of time and money, spent on lobbying and ADA’s strong arm tactics against competitors such as denturists, dental health aide therapists, and independent practices of dental hygienists needs to change for better production in meeting the oral health needs of Americans.This wasted money could be used in further educating the professions ADA fights against in alleviating ADA’s bogus public safety concerns. Corporate ADA could take portions of the millions of dollars it uses for lobbying and fighting against its competitors and instead, send each state, grants to compensate dentists who except Medicaid recipients. The American Dental Association could provide grants for dental programs in community healthcare centers across America. This would greatly improve our Nations oral healthcare concerns and unmet dental needs. Gary W. Vollan L.D. State Coordinator, Wyoming State Denturist Associationwww.wysda.org