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Dentists on the go

By Jeremy C. Ruark, Seaside Signal

1519 days ago   Article ID# 365228
Original URL

 

Medical Teams International

SEASIDE, OREGON (Seaside Signal) - A project to help area children with dental hygiene, prevention and education highlights the dental crisis across Oregon, says Medical Teams International, a non-profit global health organization based in Portland.

“I have seen an unbelievable need in the Seaside area,” said the group’s Mobile Dental Clinic Manager, Suzette Wallace. “Partly because the area has less job opportunities and the pay the people get is low. It is tough to get out of that situation.”

Medical Teams International operates a fleet of 11 mobile dental vans to serve low-income families in Oregon and Washington. The vans are equipped with at least two dental chairs each.

According to Program Director Steve Vickers, the group’s mission is to treat critical care and uninsured patients.

“Last year we treated just over 17,000 children and adults in the region. That was a record high,” said Vickers, adding, “We are on track to meet or exceed that this year and we are just scratching the surface.”

It’s a need that Wallace, who has been the mobile clinic manager for the past six years, says has been in place for a while.

“There’s always been a lot of need,” Wallace said. “You see so many people that have lost their jobs and they’ve let their dental work go. Their health is affected because of their teeth. We see a lot of children – particularly in the larger cities like Portland – where there is a large population that are homeless, low income or no income.”

Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation contracted with the international team to bring one of the dental vans to Seaside four times a year for the last several years.

Kel Toomb, the hospital’s special events coordinator, explained that volunteer dentists and hygienists staff the van and care for both children and adult patients.

“Last year, through the hospital’s connection with the Medical Teams, we provided over $104,000 in dental services for free,” said Toomb. “We treated about 230 people. Mostly adults.”

Toomb said they usually have a waiting list of 100 patients or more needing “critical” services.

“We see a lot of people who need several full mouth extractions. Many of the patients we see on the van are in pretty dire straights,” he said.

However, the dental van is for critical care only.

“We do extractions and fillings,” added Toomb. “We don’t do root canals or wisdom teeth, cleaning, or any kind of oral surgery. It’s manly to get people out of pain.”

Toomb said the lack of dental care can place a strain on medical providers, too.

“Specifically, people come to the hospital emergency room for service when they are in pain,” said Toomb. “But that is the most expensive place for something that could be easily fixed. All the emergency room doctors can do is provide temporary pain relief. They can’t treat the real problem because they are not dentists.”

“That is really why this program was started in the first place,” said hospital Public Relations and Marketing Director Patty Adkins. “We want to get those patients out of the emergency room and give them the care they really need.”

She notes that dental care is treated differently than regular health care.

“Dentists are not obligated or required to see patients who cannot pay,” said Atkins. “So many people are not being served. With people now losing their health care at higher rates, dental care is one of the causalities.”

This month the hospital foundation teamed up with the Medical Teams International to offer a triage at Cannon Beach, Seaside Heights and Gearhart Elementary schools to identify children in need of dental work. Those children will be referred to the van for treatment. Seaside Rotary will pay for the rental of the van and lodging costs for the driver.

“We partnered with Providence because they had the mechanics in place, but we also worked with them to do the pre-screening and pre education at the schools,” explained the Rotary’s Charles Dice. “We wanted to bring more attention of dental hygiene and to identify those children that are at high risk.”

Dice said the Rotary recognizes that some families can’t afford needed dental work or preventive efforts.

“We had been looking for a way to really do something with some long-term impact and benefit for the needy kids in the community,” Dice explained. “This past year at our auction fundraiser we decided to take a portion of the funds and dedicate it to the dental van project. There is clearly a need in this community to something exceptional this year and this project is the one that fits the best.”

Dice said the Rotary will pay between $2,500 and $5,000 for the current dental van project in Seaside.

“We certainly hope to repeat this project next year,” said Dice.

Through financial support from the Seaside Rotary and the Lower Columbia Hispanics Council, Toomb said the dental van will be stationed at Providence Seaside Hospital for five days, instead of three, during its next visit March 1-5.

The dental vans have been in existence for about 20 years. Eleven of the vans are stationed in central Oregon, Salem, Roseburg, Tigard, Walla Walla, Seattle and Tacoma.

Wallace said that private and public donations pay the $130,0000 per van on the road.

Despite the increasing patient need and funding challenge to keep the dental vans on the road, Wallace believes the work is rewarding.

“This is a blessing for the patients to be treated, but a privilege to be able to treat them,” said Wallace. “It’s a win-win situation.

Toomb credits the volunteers involved in the mobile dental clinics for the success of the program.

“We couldn’t do this without them,” added Toomb. “We also appreciate the donors who make the financial end of this possible. There are many people in this community who are paying for the costs of health for others. They are looking out for others well-being.”

Copyright 2014 Seaside Signal   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 1519 days ago   Article ID# 365228

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