In October we detailed four ways the nonprofit dental organizations that make up our Dental Resource Program (DRP) members have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus shutdowns and what we’re doing to help them get back on their feet. In addition to the steep costs of reopening, reductions to staff, and nearly impossible community outreach, our DRP members have also experienced an increase in emergency and costly urgent treatment for children who had to forgo routine dental care during the early part of the pandemic.
With a backlog of patients (especially at clinics where wait times can be up to one year under normal circumstances) and more parents out of work, the need for more extensive dental treatment is only expected to grow in the coming year.
To make matters worse, with social distancing guidelines making it harder for dental professionals to donate their time and skills during special charity dental events, kids from low-income families or those lacking appropriate dental coverage will have an even more difficult time staying out of the emergency room due to dental pain and infections.
So, what can dental service providers and other concerned citizens do to help? In February–National Children’s Dental Health Month–we’ll launch our More Smiles Campaign, an opportunity to give so that kids in need can get the urgent and restorative care they need but their families cannot afford. Proceeds will benefit our In the Gap Program, which provides grants to pay for the direct care of patients of our DRP members.
Since the program was launched in 2017, 69 kids have benefitted from In the Gap grants including *Stacey, a teenager with two absentee parents who needed a crown, and Axel, a seven year-old whose unemployed, single mother couldn’t afford to pay for the extractions of four carious teeth that were causing him considerable pain. Most In the Gap awards range from $500 to $1,000. Our goal for the More Smiles Campaign is to raise enough to help 25-50 kids in need of dental treatment.
Our In the Gap Program has four benefits that an annual free service day or charity dental events cannot offer, making it a worthwhile investment for dental professionals who work at for-profit offices:
1. A donation to support an In the Gap grant provides more than just care to relieve pain or embarrassment. The care the child in need receives also connects them to a dental home that can give them the continuity of care they need to maintain good oral health for years to come.
2. In the Gap grants provide essential funding to help nonprofit dental clinics stay afloat during an uncertain economy, to continue serving marginalized communities in the future. The patients they serve would otherwise likely never set foot in a for-profit dental office, making their existence essential to improve the health of people living in impoverished and underserved communities.
3. Funding an In the Gap grant is a more efficient way to provide charitable care to low-income children for two reasons:
• Nonprofit dental clinics often combine donated services and products, and treatments that are partially covered by state-funded dental plans with the resources they receive from grants in order to serve more children than the grant alone could. In other words, they multiply the impact of the donation.
• When for-profit dental offices treat patients who cannot afford to pay, they are not only incurring the cost of their service, time, and supplies, but also are missing out on the earnings from a paying patient (and the future revenue they can afford to bring.) So, in effect, they multiply their loss.
4. Oftentimes an inability to pay isn’t the only thing keeping kids from receiving the care they need. Some families lack reliable transportation, face cultural or language barriers, or have other healthcare needs that make getting service from a traditional dental office or charity service day more difficult. Nonprofit dental clinics are uniquely qualified to deal with these issues and can apply In the Gap funding to overcome challenges like transportation.
We are excited about our More Smiles Campaign and the children who will benefit from the generosity of those who give! The opportunity to relieve pain, bring an end to embarrassment, restore smiles, and prevent future decay inspires us to push on through the challenges of the current state of the world to brighter days ahead.