United Way helps Windham County smile
By Carmen Derby, Executive Director, United Way of Windham County
Here’s something to chew on — how often 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. They 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.
Sinking our teeth into the problem
Because health is a primary focus of UWWC, we worked with our community partners and area dental practices to establish Windham County Smiles, which currently provides adult dental care through two programs:
- 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. Click here for more information.
- 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. But more remains to be done. 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. To expand access to care, a dental center that serves county adults with Medicaid is in the planning stages with the goal of opening a Brattleboro facility in 2020.
Changing lives one smile at a time
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.
Our 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.