United Way helps Windham County Smile

Celebrating 60 years of caring

United Way helps Windham County smile

By Carmen Derby, Executive Director, United Way of Windham County
We use teeth to describe figuratively many of life’s experiences. For example, beginners cut their teeth on a project to get experience. To salvage a lagging effort, we put some teeth into it. We grit our teeth to get through hardship, repress anger by grinding teeth, and fight tooth and nail for something we would give our eyeteeth for. 
But for people who have chronic, often painful, dental problems, teeth can literally become the focus of their lives. Their problems can stem from a variety of causes, including neglect, fear of dental care, lack of dental care from childhood, periodontal disease, cancer or untreated diabetes, bulimia, drug or domestic abuse, a mouth injury or aging. People plagued by dental problems often suffer from low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, and their ability to eat a healthful diet or swallow may be impaired. They may also may have limited employment opportunities. Like all of us, they want to be free from pain and smile without feeling shame.
Because health is a primary focus of United Way of Windham County (UWWC), we sunk our teeth into this problem and worked with our community partners and area dental practices to establish Windham County Smiles, which prioritizes adult care because Vermont's Dr. Dynosaur insurance program provides low-cost or free health coverage for children, teenagers under age 19 and pregnant women.
Windham County Smiles currently provides adult dental care in these ways:
  • Adult Dental Care Day, begun in 2011, provides fillings and extractions, except for wisdom teeth, for eligible Windham County residents age 18 and older. This event will be held on Saturday, May 5, 2018, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and is free with a suggested donation of $20. County residents are invited to the Brattleboro Elks Lodge #1499, 75 Putney Road, where patients will be evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis and then treated at participating dental offices. Transportation from the Elks to the dental practice is provided if needed. For additional information, call Vermont 2-1-1.
  • The Denture Fund, begun in 2013, provides dentures for eligible county residents. The fund has so far provided $84,640 in services for 33 approved cases.  
Since 2011, UWWC and it partners have leveraged more than $470,000 of pro bono dental services, including fillings, extractions, and dentures, for nearly 1,000 Windham County residents. Windham County Smiles has been promoted nationally by United Way Worldwide as a model for similar programs.
But more remains to be done. The statistics sound a clear call to action: As of 2016, only 18% of Medicaid-eligible adults in the Agency of Human Services Brattleboro district report receiving any preventive or other dental services, which means more than 5,700 people receive no dental services. Yet the Vermont Department of Health goal is 85%. To narrow and perhaps even close that gap, a dental center that serves county adults with Medicaid is in the planning stages with the goal of opening a Brattleboro facility in 2020. 
Because a strong connection exists between oral health and overall health and quality of life, Windham County Smiles helps residents improve confidence, eat more healthfully, eliminate chronic pain, feel better physically and mentally, enhance professional and employment opportunities … and, of course, smile.
A denture recipient recounts how profoundly Windham County Smiles has changed her life:
It was very important for me to have teeth because I couldn’t talk without them and didn’t want to go anywhere without teeth because it’s embarrassing, and appearances matter. Also, I had trouble eating, and it was affecting my health. I am glad I have my teeth now … I can talk, eat better, and I can smile now. Please consider donating to the Denture Fund through United Way because it will help other people feel better about themselves and their health.
UWWC’s goal is to provide preventive and ongoing dental health care to eligible Windham County residents. To accomplish that goal, we continue our ongoing conversation with community partners and dental providers who share the vision of increasing accessibility to oral care.