The Minnesota Dental Association created the Community Service Committee to be knowledgeable and disseminate information about special programs and clinics. This committee is further tasked to facilitate and assist efforts by dentists and community groups who are developing special programs at the local community level to help meet the oral health needs of the underserved.
When people from the general public are asked to identify dental community service in Minnesota, they often reply, "Give Kids a Smile Program". While this speaks highly of the success of the MDA's efforts in Give Kids a Smile, it also indicates a lack of information regarding the tremendous work that is done throughout the year by MDA members in their offices, and throughout their communities, all across the state of Minnesota.
The MDA Dental Access Electronic Survey, conducted in the spring of 2008, provided some interesting information. While the majority of dentists responded that they provided for the underserved directly in their offices, 26 different dental access programs were identified in which dentists were personally involved with providing clinical dental services, both paid and volunteer.
Dentists throughout Minnesota are involved with community service at many levels. Their involvement and commitment is many times overlooked, and these dentists do not announce or advertise the donation to their communities. They simply do it. The following are some quotes from dentists regarding their involvement in providing dental care at their community level.
"I have participated in Give Kids a Smile since its inception; in the past I have provided care once a month at a rural nursing home with a portable dental unit. I currently serve as the dental liaison for our local county Head Start program. I also participate in Donated Dental Services (DDS)."
"I treat all children, disabled, group home, and elderly on MA. I have donated several thousand dollars of treatment to the DDS program, and GKAS."
"Red River Dental Access Program, Donated Dental Services, GKAS."
"St Joseph's Community Clinic, Northwest Tech College, MnCare/MA, Give Kids a Smile, and Head Start."
"We have a policy in our office that we will see anyone from our local nursing home and assisted living facility without regard to financial ability to pay for services. These residents (and their families) have enough issues to deal with without worrying about dental care."
"Personally provide up to $5,000 in care to individuals referred by each of four different churches in the area, up to $20,000 total a year."
Minnesota dentists have quietly gone beyond the call of duty when it comes to providing help to those in need, and in recent years have demonstrated outstanding efforts through Give Kids a Smile Day and the Donated Dental Services (DDS) Program. It is a concerted effort of the Community Services Committee of the Minnesota Dental Association to "get the word out" regarding the significant impact dentists are having. An unpublished MDA 2005 effort about Minnesota dentists' efforts to address dental access through charitable efforts indicated that the 800-plus responding dentists estimated having provided nearly four million dollars worth of free or reduced rate dental services over the course of just one year.
The following three sections are examples of what dentists are doing across the state, and are three opportunities where dental personnel can be involved.
Project Homeless Connect
Project Homeless Connect is a major event sponsored by the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County in partnership with all types of essential services, providing care and assistance to the homeless. This is an event held twice a year at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The last event attracted approximately 3,000 individuals seeking help.
Dental treatment has been the most requested health service of all the medical services provided at Project Homeless Connect. MDA member Dr. Adele DellaTorre from the Minneapolis District provides leadership to manage the dental personnel involved in providing care at this event. Seven volunteer dentists and many other dental personnel and students provided 351 oral health screenings, 53 urgent care on-site visits, and 113 extractions. No count was taken of the many individuals who received oral health counseling and hygiene instructions.
Four private dental clinics donated clinic appointments in the days following Project Homeless Connect, and many of these homeless patients were "adopted" by these dentists for comprehensive care. Dental care was provided to those with the greatest need through a well organized effort that involved government, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and for-profit clinics.
The program has been a growing success, but there is still much to do. At the last event, many of the homeless people requesting dental care had to be turned away. Volunteers are needed both for the day of the event and to donate clinic hours following the event. The next Project Homeless Connect in Minneapolis is set for December 8, 2008. To become involved, dental persons should contact Dr. Adele Della Torre at
There are approximately 9,000 homeless persons throughout the state of Minnesota. Dr. DellaTorre is available and encourages dental personnel to contact her if they are interested in bringing dental services to their city/county through a Project Homeless Connect event.
Collaborative Hygiene Agreements
Collaborative hygiene agreements allow dental hygienists to provide preventive care without patients first being examined by a licensed dentist, if the dental hygienist meets certain educational and clinical experience criteria. The collaborative agreement must be in writing and signed by both the dentist and the dental hygienist. The Minnesota Head Start Program is one specific area where the MDA encourages dentists to consider developing a collaborative agreement with qualified hygienists. Since 2006, the MDA has partnered with the Minnesota Head Start Association to find ways to get needed oral health care to preschool children enrolled in Head Start Programs. Head Start is a well established program that assists low income families to become self-reliant while also helping prepare their children for success in school. The hygienist does not need to be employed by the dentist, and the collaborating dentist is not required to treat the children who are referred for follow-up restorative care.
Establishing collaborative hygiene agreements to provide education, fluoride varnishes, sealants, and preliminary charting and radiographs has been proven to be very successful in helping meet the oral health needs of children. As stated above, the hygienist must meet definite criteria and be calibrated to provide oral health assessments, triage, and subsequent referral to local dentists for restorative care. Dentists are encouraged to contact the Head Start Program in their local communities and determine if they could assist in helping establish a collaborative hygiene agreement. For more information on how you can be involved with this successful program, please contact Dr. Dan Rose, MDA Community Service Committee Chair, at (218) 296-0489 or e-mail him at DanRose@rosehillranch.org.
Indian Health Service and Tribal Communities
Indian Health Service and tribal communities are experiencing a critical shortage of oral health care providers. The American Dental Association has encouraged dentists to volunteer throughout the United States. The MDA is encouraging Minnesota dentists to assist with the challenges at IHS Clinics here in our own state. During Give Kids a Smile 2008, MDA dentists and auxiliary dental personnel provided care at the Pine Point School and Clinic located on the White Earth Reservation. Having seen the tremendous need firsthand, it was recommended that the MDA Community Service Committee identify the White Earth IHS Dental Clinics as a worthy project. Not only is the main clinic at White Earth Health Center critically understaffed, but two satellite clinics that serve a large part of the population have not been operational for more than a year due to the lack of personnel. MDA member dentists are encouraged to assist in the goal of making these clinics operational within the next year. The White Earth Clinics are located in the heart of Minnesota's vacationland, and it would be easy for dental persons to plan a working vacation to the area. Contact here is Dr. Dan Rose at (218) 296-0489 or by e-mail at DanRose@rosehillranch.org.
The story of the Good Samaritan has touched many persons throughout history. It is the story of someone reaching out to another whom he or she would not normally be associated with, to help provide care when needed. The Samaritan gave assistance without expecting anything in return. Dentists involved in community service many times do so with this same thought. Minnesota dentists should be proud of what they are doing to help meet the oral health needs of underserved populations, giving of their time and skill, many times foregoing any monetary compensation. It should be encouraging to remember that it feels good to do something for someone and expect nothing in return. Let's encourage one another in our efforts, and continue to provide for those
*Dr. Rose is Past Chair of the Minnesota Dental Association's Community Service Committee and member of the MDA Board of Trustees. He is a general practitioner in private practice in Pillager, Minnesota, and provides hospital dentistry for special needs patients at Lakewood Hospital.