Adding Up Impact: Healing Smiles
This case study is part of MANP’s Stories of Impact series highlighting the many ways Maine’s nonprofits are essential to a strong and healthy Maine.
Regular dental care is not a given for many Mainers. Since 2006 an all-volunteer corps of dentists, hygienists and assistants has been providing free dental treatment twice a month in evening clinics for low-income and uninsured residents in the Midcoast region with remarkable outcomes. Its record of success includes:
- Treating up to 180 patients annually from Bath, Brunswick, Freeport, Topsham and Harpswell who otherwise would not have received any dental services.
- Performing more than 4,000 procedures between 2006-2013 valued at almost $850,000, while maintaining operating costs at only $10,000 annually.
- Utilizing preventative procedures to significantly reduce dental-related emergencies otherwise treated by Oasis Health Network.
- Contributing to a 31% reduction in dental-related emergency room visits among area hospitals, with estimated savings of $67,000.
- Attracting over $300,000 in grant funding to expand operations.
The Story Behind the Impact
In 2004, members of the Merrymeeting Bay Dental Society got together to figure out a way to provide free dental services for area residents. What emerged in 2006 was a free clinic in partnership with Oasis Health Network and Catholic Charities with a mission to reduce emergency room visits. Oasis handles all scheduling and administration, while Catholic Charities’ Jesse Albert Dental Center in Bath is made available two evenings a month at no cost. Operating costs have remained level at only $10,000 annually, covered by funding from several private foundations and discounts from dental supply companies.
Patients receiving services have no insurance or veterans’ benefits and have incomes under 175% of federal poverty guidelines. Midcoast Hunger Prevention, Brunswick’s Tedford Emergency Shelter and local Health and Human Services offices also make referrals through Oasis. Unlike other free dental programs that provide a single day of treatment annually, the Oasis Clinic model has operated year-round in the same location since 2006.
Steering committee member Dr. Frederick Elsaesser describes the work he and his colleagues perform as “like doing third world dentistry in our own back yard.” Each patient is eligible for one hour of treatment and may be referred for follow-up care in more serious cases. Poor dental health is a contributing cause of complications in diabetes and heart disease, but Oasis Health Network’s diabetes program has seen a reduction in diabetic complications due to the free clinic’s work.
Thanks to a recent grant from the Maine Next Gen Foundation, in 2015 Oasis Health Network will be installing two dental operatories at its location in Brunswick, and will have a dental hygienist on-site to provide preventive services and diagnostic x-rays in addition to the dental care that will continue to be provided by the cadre of volunteer dentists from the Merrymeeting Dental Association.
Oasis Health Network projects a 25% increase in capacity during the first year, and is hoping to fill a gap in much-needed urgent and emergency dental care by having providers available several days a week. In the words of Dr. Elsaesser, “By having a dental clinic under the same roof as the medical side of Oasis, we will provide more comprehensive healthcare to those in the Midcoast area who have no other options. The dental need in our area is overwhelming, but the creation of our own clinic is a significant step in trying to address this problem.”
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