In 2017, Dental Lifeline Network was granted $5,000 from the International College of Dentists USA Section Foundation. This generous grant from the International College of Dentists USA Section Foundation supported the Missouri Donated Dental Services (DDS) Program’s effort to help veterans with special needs in the Greater St. Louis area access treatment for severe dental problems. While a network of volunteer dentists and dental laboratories donate their services, we must raise funds to support their efforts through a DDS Coordinator. Other expenses include lab fees when we cannot find labs to donate, office supplies, etc. The grant went toward these expenses.
The DDS Program exists to help individuals with disabilities or who are elderly or medically fragile and cannot afford or otherwise access treatment for severe dental conditions. As a result of their ages or disabilities, they cannot work and depend on government assistance for health care.
Medicare does not provide dental coverage and Missouri’s Medicaid program only offers emergency dental benefits for adults. Many individuals with disabilities or who are aged or medically fragile and can work earn just over the income threshold to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford costly dental care or dental insurance. And among these individuals are military veterans unable to access dental coverage through the VA. As a result, they suffer in agonizing pain from severe dental problems and have nowhere to turn for help.
In 2016, a group of local dentists came together to develop a pilot program to treat vulnerable veterans in the Greater St. Louis area in partnership with the DDS program. This pilot is the first of its kind for Dental Lifeline Network. As a result of the success of this program, we have expanded the program statewide during the 2017-2018 fiscal year and also are working to establish similar programs in New York City and Colorado that are based on the St. Louis model. “Helping People With Disabilities or Who Are Elderly or Medically Fragile.”
The DDS program has a life-changing impact on some of Missouri’s veterans and other vulnerable residents. They endure unimaginable pain and embarrassment from serious dental problems in addition to the other physical and financial challenges they experience as a result of their ages, disabilities, and health conditions. Their dental problems can impact their health, confidence, ability to eat and communicate and overall quality of life. Through the DDS program, these individuals receive thousands of dollars in free, comprehensive care that restores their dental health, relieves their suffering and enhances their overall health and quality of life. We share two stories below that illustrate the important impact of the DDS program on the individuals we serve.
DDS is a highly collaborative program. In addition to receiving referrals from dozens of local health and human services organizations, we partner with hundreds of dentists and dental laboratories statewide to bring treatment to vulnerable individuals, including veterans.
Sixty-two-year-old Edgar is a St. Louis resident and U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. Edgar has suffered two heart attacks and has had multiple stents placed over the years. In addition, he suffers from diabetes, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea. Also, his dental condition was deteriorating: his teeth were chipped and broken, causing pain and making eating difficult. He had been wearing a temporary upper partial denture for more than 20 years and it had become worn down.
After Edgar’s time in the military, he worked for years as a trucker. His health problems caused him to lose his job at one point and he ended up homeless and living in his car. Thankfully, the VA helped him access a veteran’s pension he was eligible for due to his wartime service. He survives on that pension and goes to the VA for all of his healthcare needs. Unfortunately, his benefits do not cover dental treatment. It seemed Edgar had nowhere to turn for help.
Edgar was able to get the treatment he needed through the DDS program. A generous volunteer dentist restored a tooth, provided a deep cleaning, and with the help of a volunteer lab, donated a crown and new upper partial dentures. Thanks to these volunteers, Edgar received more than $7,500 in donated treatment he could not afford on his own!
“The doctor and whole staff were unbelievable. Being able to eat without having to worry about cracking my teeth [in his partial] or worrying about chewing, and being able to talk okay and smile….before I didn’t do any of that. It was embarrassing and now it is a lot better, I can smile! I had no other way to get it done. Being able to do it through this program has meant a whole lot. It took a financial burden off of me and made me no longer have to worry about the state of my mouth and breaking what work I had paid for a long time ago!”
Seventy-three-year-old Ralph is a widower and U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in St. Louis. He has a history of heart attacks and also suffers from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, he is unable to eat a healthy diet due to his dental needs. Ralph has worn dentures for 30 years, during which time the shape of his jaws have changed and the dentures no longer fit properly and cause him to gag. He resorted to filing down his dentures as much as he could in an attempt to have them fit better, but even that did not help. Frustrated and embarrassed, Ralph desperately needed help with his dentures, but sadly, was unable to afford the treatment he needed. Surviving on his Social Security and a small food stamps benefit, Ralph struggled to make ends meet. New dentures were a luxury beyond his reach.
Thankfully, the VA referred Ralph to the DDS program and he was linked with a team of volunteers. A general dentist attempted to adjust Ralph’s existing dentures but he continued to have trouble. The volunteer dentist instead donated full implant-retained dentures. Zimmer Inc. donated the implants that were placed by a volunteer periodontist. One volunteer laboratory donated a 3D surgical guide and another lab reinforced the dentures at no charge. Thanks to this generous team, Ralph received more than $17,450 in donated treatment that restored his ability to eat—and smile! He wrote to express his appreciation for this amazing gift.
“I cannot express my gratitude for your contribution in changing my life. I have been unable to wear my dentures for many years. This caused serious adjustments in my eating habits, my physical appearance, and my self-confidence. Now, people tell me I look 10 years younger and have a great smile. Appreciation doesn’t describe how much this means to me.”
Objective 1: Restore the oral health of 50 Greater St. Louis veterans with disabilities, are elderly or medically fragile and who cannot afford nor otherwise access treatment for serious dental conditions.
Results: From January 10, 2017 – December 10, 2017, we served 38 veterans, 25 of whom have received $173,994 in donated treatment:
- 16 patients completed treatment.
- 9 patients are still undergoing treatment but have received some care thus far.
- 13 more patients have been referred to volunteer dentists, but haven’t yet finished any treatment services.
Objective 2: Provide $165,000 worth of donated dental treatment (including lab services) for these vulnerable individuals. This care will be donated by the DDS volunteer network of dental professionals and represents an average of $3,300 in care per patient.
Results: The 25 patients who have finished some care have received $173,994 in donated treatment thus far.
Each patient treated received an average of $6,960 worth of dental treatment; comprehensive care that illustrates the generosity of the volunteer dentists and labs. The amount of donated care is significantly higher than the anticipated average of $3,300 in treatment per person. Such complicated cases take longer to coordinate which is why we have served slightly fewer patients than expected thus far. In other words, fewer people have received more treatment than expected.
Objective 3: Recruit 50 new volunteer dentists who will donate their time and services through the DDS program to provide sorely-needed dental care for veterans.
Results: Since January 10, 2017, 14 new dentists (9 in the Greater St. Louis area) have signed up to volunteer. We already had a volunteer corps of 177 dentists for the DDS program in the Greater St. Louis area, many of whom were not being utilized, so we have not worked to recruit more as we already had enough volunteers to fulfill the grant requirements.