Closing a gap in oral health care

August 6, 2014
Elsa Helton receives dental care at North Dallas Shared Ministries.

A partnership through TAMBCD allows more patients to receive dental care at North Dallas Shared Ministries.

Elsa Helton was elated when she discovered that students from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry would provide her with some overdue dental care at North Dallas Shared Ministries. She had seen the fliers at the center and knew that the nonprofit would begin seeing patients daily on a first-come, first-served basis starting June 11.

Helton had prior experience with TAMBCD from the late ’90s, when she selected the college’s orthodontic program for her daughter’s needed braces.

“They were phenomenal,” says Helton of the faculty and residents who oversaw her daughter’s treatment. “Knowing my care would be under A&M Baylor College of Dentistry made me feel so comfortable and even more grateful.”

Since losing her job at a Dallas publishing company in January, it has been tough for Helton to pay grocery bills, much less afford dental care without insurance. So Helton, who had for years contributed to North Dallas Shared Ministries through food and money offerings collected at her synagogue, turned to the nonprofit for its free services.

“I felt like I was in the most capable hands,” says Helton, who received a filling for a cavity left untreated for several years — a temporary measure, dental students cautioned her. “If I’m still in the same position next year and need a root canal, I will sign up to have it done at North Dallas Shared Ministries.”

The nonprofit — backed by 52 Metroplex congregations — provides social and health care services to more than 65,000 low-income residents within 20 ZIP codes. Through this new partnership with A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, made possible by the 1115 Healthcare Transformation waiver, North Dallas Shared Ministries has expanded the oral health care services it can provide to uninsured northwest Dallas residents.

Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry’s Department of Public Health Sciences now sends fourth-year dental students to the location as part of a recent expansion to the college’s community-based clinical training program. Now each of the North Dallas Shared Ministries’ four dental operatories will be filled Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Previously, the clinic’s hours were limited to four days a month, during which time dental students could shadow volunteer dentists as part of the college’s preceptor program.

“This is a good way to expand access to an underserved population and to enhance our training base for our predoctoral program,” says Paul Hoffmann, administrative director for extramural clinics at TAMBCD. “This will teach our students about the total needs of the patient. It’s not just their mouths. And it’s not just health. It’s social services; it’s education; it’s behavioral health; it’s the whole gamut of services these patients need. It’s going to be a really good experience.”

With faculty supervision and the help of dental assistants, dental students will treat approximately 25 patients a day at the clinic, performing extractions and fillings for adults. There are plans to expand services to children and transition to comprehensive care with dental hygiene, education, and fixed and removable prosthodontics. Right now patients are seen on a walk-in basis, but appointments will be introduced, he adds.

To further beef up the workforce at North Dallas Shared Ministries, a separate A&M Baylor College of Dentistry student-run program began June 16, catering to special-needs patients on a volunteer, biweekly basis Monday evenings.

The college’s increased presence at North Dallas Shared Ministries is something executive director Judy Rorrie welcomes with open arms.

“This is going to allow us to expand the dental clinic exponentially,” says Rorrie. “To be able to have our clinic open for eight hours a day, five days a week, for 40 weeks a year is going to provide dental care for a population that is sorely in need of its services.”

— Jennifer Fuentes

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