April/May Clinics Set
by Sandra Dinsmore
The only time many rural Mainers see dentists is when they’re in pain, and by that time, the tooth that brought them to the dentist may be past saving. But for some time now, various dental groups have worked to help those who need emergency care, to change attitudes towards dentistry, and to teach young children how to care for and maintain healthy teeth.
Volunteers from three such groups: New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry, Caring Hands of Maine Dental Center in Ellsworth, and the Washington County Children’s Program (WCCP) and a few more Maine dentists and hygienists have joined together to create the Machias Outreach Project, a free five-day dental clinic in Machias for Washington County families and for those who do not have an existing dentist. The Machias clinic starts Monday, April 30.
In those five days, said. Dr. Timothy Oh, of Caring Hands of Maine, “We average over 800 visits. Some people come in and they have three or four teeth that are broken and are abscessed. We might be able to treat one or two one day, and they come back and we do the other ones. Unfortunately, we can’t do everything, but we try to do as much as we can,” he said “It’s refreshing to see volunteers working hard, patients being appreciative, and the whole thing running so smoothly.”
That might be because most of the 40 to 45 volunteers know what to expect. “We’ve done it every six months for two years,” Oh said. The team consists of 30 to 35 dental students from NYU, Oh, his dentist wife, Audree Park; hygienists from Caring Hands, and seven or eight other dentists from across the state. They volunteer along with one or two dental hygienists and staff from the Washington Country Children’s Program.
Any volunteers or dental students, particularly New Yorkers used to demanding patients, might be in for a surprise. “Every time we’ve done this,” Oh noted, “they’ve all been overwhelmed by the kindness and the generosity and the appreciation of the patients they’ve encountered. ... People will come and bring blueberry pies, bake cookies or brownies. They’ll give gifts or T- shirts. There have been all kinds of outpourings of support. They’ll draw pictures on cards. There’s been an overwhelmingly warm ”
Oh hopes some of those New York dental students will remember the kindness and appreciation of those Mainers when they’re deciding where to set up their practices. When Oh and Park planned Caring Hands of Maine Dental Center, they outfitted it with brand new, portable decommissioned military dental units that had been sitting in storage for seven years without ever having been turned on. Each unit breaks down to a couple of boxes that fit in Oh’s small station wagon, which, in turn, can fit on an island ferry. Caring Hands of Maine uses this equipment for this Machias project and also for portable dentistry in other areas throughout the year.
They had two goals for Caring Hands of Maine. First, they wanted it to be a private non-profit organization with a mission to provide quality dental care to low-income Mainers, particularly children, in Hancock and Washington counties. Second, they wanted to provide clinical training in public health and in rural and preventative healthcare.
Although a lot of new graduates think that they have to move to the city to make a living, Oh said, “We found that after one week in Machias, many of them leave saying that they didn’t know how rewarding it would be to work in a place where they felt very appreciated.”
Of his accomplishments over the last two years, he said, “We have had over 100 individuals at different stages in their professional training participate in our programs, either one at a time or as larger groups. Maine requires a special extern license to work at dentistry in the state while in a training program,” Oh said. “I believe we have been issued more ‘extern’ permits from the State of Maine Board of Dentistry than any other organization.” (An extern is a non-resident connected with an institution.)
Pulling off such a project, even with the dentists, hygienists, and backup personnel volunteering their time, is expensive. To help offset costs, the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation, a Maine dental insurance company, donated $100,000. The WCCP donates use of its “Tooth Ferry” van, fitted with a dentist’s chair, which delivers dental hygiene and education to all the county’s schools during the school year. Henry Schein, which Oh described as a “multi-billion-dollar, world-wide medical/dental supply company,” has provided dental supplies for the past two years for the cooperative project in Machias, through its Henry Schein Cares program.
Other co-sponsors include Child and Family Opportunities, Washington Hancock Community Agency (WHCA)—which drives patients to and from the clinic—and Down East Community Hospital, which sterilizes all the instruments each day.
The Machias clinic, though Caring Hands of Maine’s biggest, is just one of many such projects the organization involves itself with in the field of community, or public, health. The Maine Dental Access Coalition awarded its Oral Health Hero award to Oh in January for founding Caring Hands of Maine and for helping lead the collaborative Machias project, which has provided more than 2,000 patient visits and nearly $250,000 of free dentistry. He also earned the award for helping initiate the new Expanded Function Dental Assisting Program at the University of Maine.
On February 18, the dental center with help from volunteers from across the state held a free “Give Kids a Smile Day” clinic at the office in Ellsworth for children of all ages. “What we’re looking to do is provide care for kids who really have difficulty getting care otherwise,” Oh said. “So we’re looking for families who don’t have coverage, who don’t have MaineCare, who really have limited resources in terms of seeking care for their kids.”
As more and more children have attended Oh’s clinics, they have become increasingly successful. Children who came two years ago had cavities filled and learned how to prevent future ones. “When they show up with no new cavities, they prove the clinic’s value,” Oh said.
On February 24, he taught children oral hygiene at the Harbor House in Southwest Harbor.
On March 2, Oh had planned to practice portable dentistry at Frenchboro, but Mother Nature intervened in the form of a snowstorm, so the trip is being re-scheduled.
On March 30, the Caring Hands staff packed the portable chair and dental equipment for their third year of Dental Clinic Days at Islesford, on Little Cranberry Isle.
On April 20, the dental team of Oh, Park, and a couple of hygienists will return for its now regular Dental Clinic Days on Swan’s Island.
Then on June 1, Oh will speak in Augusta on the topic, “Assuring Quality in School Sealant Programs.”
The Caring Hands team has also done educational programs at Head Starts, nursery schools, and various community groups, and the team has volunteered at free clinics in Bangor. Each year Oh tries to travel to Phoenix where he participates in a big, day-long free dental clinic for underprivileged children.
This well-filled calendar may partially explain why, more often than not, when not working on a patient, Oh can be found planning a clinic where he, a student dentist he’s training, and a hygienist will volunteer their services. On the other hand, he might just have returned from taking his staff, portable dental chair and equipment to an island where they’ve made dentistry accessible and affordable. With Timothy Oh and his committed staff and volunteers of the Caring Hands program, you just know that, calm and gentle as he appears, his mind is racing ahead as he plans for the next venture.
The Machias Outreach Project
FMI: To make appointments for any of the clinics listed, contact:
Caring Hands of Maine at 70 Kingsland Crossing, Suite A, Ellsworth
Call 667-6789, or go to www.caringhandsofmaine.org
The Machias clinic will be held the Lee Pellon Center, 90 Main Street, Machias.
Monday, April 30; Tuesday, May 1; Wednesday, May 2; Closed Thursday, May 3; Friday, May 4; and Saturday, May 5.
Monday-Wednesday 8 am-5 pm
Friday 8 am-5 pm
Saturday 8 am-noon
Machias Clinic Location: Lee Pellon Center, 90 Main Street, Machias.
Adults are seen on a walk-in basis. For children, Washington County schools and HeadStart programs have an advance announcement and permission slip sent home to schedule children.
NOTE: Machias clinic is for Washington County residents only.