Vineyard Smiles add sparkle

The free three-week dental clinic which has been operational since April 4 this year at First Baptist Church Parish House in Vineyard Haven will complete its work for this year on Friday April 22. flow of about 16 adult patients daily during his three weeks on the island.

Vineyard Smiles, which began in 2005, aims to increase access to oral health care for Island residents and, with support from Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation and the Island Boards of Health, has been in able to provide free dental hygiene services to people with limited access.

Originally designed to provide dental care to children, Vineyard Smiles quickly grew into a larger program, encompassing residents of all ages.

Through comprehensive analysis and fieldwork on health care in the vineyard, the Health Care Access Program, in conjunction with Dukes County, concluded that one of the most pressing issues was lack of access to adequate and affordable dental care, Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Care Access Program/Vineyard Smiles, said.

Thinking about how to meet this vital “unmet need,” the county applied for grants to help secure funding and eventually partnered with providers Commonwealth Mobile Oral Health Services (CMOHS) and Polished Teeth, LLC. , in addition to the United Nurses Association. (UNA).

Attempts have been made on the island in the past to establish monthly dental hygiene clinics, but efforts have faltered, in part due to administrative problems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already scarce availability of dental care for many Island residents. Especially for low-income patients, getting affordable oral health care is a challenge, with many insurance plans leaving recipients without much-needed coverage. The dental center at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, which provided care to about 1,500 islanders a year, closed permanently in December 2020, further widening the gap between patients and affordable dental care.

According to the CDC, in 2020, 63% of Americans over the age of 18 said they had had a dental visit that year. Between 2019 and 2020, the percentage of children under the age of 18 who had dental check-ups decreased, with children from low-income families being the most affected. Various social determinants of health, such as the environment in which a person lives and works, have a significant impact on accessibility to dental care, which, in turn, makes disparities in access a socio-economic issue. permanent, according to the CDC.

Since its inception, Vineyard Smiles has offered annual clinics held at local senior centers and mobile services for public school students, in addition to its three-week clinic at First Baptist Church Parish House in 2021, with support from the MV Community Foundation, health boards, and various donations, approximately 240 residents received dental services.

Rushed by the pandemic, many older, established dental practices that have taken out MassHealth coverage have closed their offices, and in doing so, left an urgent need for affordable oral health care. In Massachusetts, community health centers are inundated with calls for dental appointments, dental hygienist Ellen Gould said. “I’ve had patients tell me they’ve been waiting eight or nine months just for a cleaning.”

On Martha’s Vineyard in particular, Gould said, “there are a lot of barriers,” which contribute to the challenges of getting dental care. The cost of initial exams, X-rays, cleanings, transportation costs, the ability to take time off work ─ with many patients having to leave the island for appointments, travel is often dependent on the Steamship Authority ─ are just a few factors of accessibility, or lack of.

The program attempts to alleviate many of these barriers, Gould said, adding that one of the office assistants, Lydia, took it upon herself to take an elderly patient for her appointment that day, who was not couldn’t make it to the clinic.

Additionally, explaining that the program serves as a kind of first line of defense, “It’s a lot of leadership [patients] where they need to go and help them find their way,” said dental hygienist Heather Reid. Because Vineyard Smiles clinicians do not perform invasive dental work, much of the work involves helping people obtain the necessary referrals to manage how to move forward in cases where a patient may need oral surgery or show signs of an abscess or some form of cancer.

“There are only two reasons why people don’t have good teeth,” Reid said. “Fear and money.

The most important thing, she said, is being able to educate patients on how to take care of their teeth, hopefully to avoid more serious problems.

Many of this year’s patients have returned from the previous year, Gould said, adding that when many came last year they had told the team they had not been to a dental check-up or teeth cleaning for a decade or more.

In addition to the First Baptist Church clinic, which served as a sort of home base, Gould and Reid mobilize portable clinics to serve residents of various organizations, including the community services building at Martha’s Vineyard, Island. Wide Youth Collaborative, in which children start at age 3 ─ and sometimes their parents ─ receive free health checks.

“Having a portable program like ours is truly a blessing,” Gould said. Not just for Island residents, but also for the dental team. Gould and Reid ─ both are Polished Teeth LLC. workers ─ are mainland residents who often spend weekends and late evenings at MV-based clinics. Responding to a request for much-needed services on the island, Gould said, “We love coming here…everyone is so grateful.”

Kuh said the clinicians are “absolutely committed,” pointing out that the team “lay down their lives for three weeks” at a time, in order to provide this service.

Vineyard Smiles’ current model has been a success, but it’s like a “band aid for a bunch of unmet needs,” Kuh said, adding the program “only scratches the surface” and highlights a problem. deeply rooted in the healthcare system, which is access to reliable and affordable healthcare.

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