Serving the underserved

Sept. 1, 2006
$100 million of dental care is quite a bit of treatment, but just how much? For more than 70,000 of this nation’s most vulnerable individuals assisted through the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped’s (NFDH) Donated Dental Services (DDS) program, the value of the life-changing, comprehensive dental remedies they have received cannot be measured.

$100 million of dental care is quite a bit of treatment, but just how much? For more than 70,000 of this nation’s most vulnerable individuals assisted through the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped’s (NFDH) Donated Dental Services (DDS) program, the value of the life-changing, comprehensive dental remedies they have received cannot be measured. For accounting purposes however, the monetary value of their dignity-restoring dental therapies has reached a total evocative of a Powerball jackpot: $100 million.

Since 1976, NFDH, a non-profit charitable affiliate of the American Dental Association, has worked to create and augment a national network of direct-service programs to serve needy elderly, disabled, and medically-compromised individuals. This is accomplished by engaging in significant and complimentary partnerships with thousands of caring dental professionals, laboratories, dental associations, advocacy groups, philanthropic organizations, and government agencies on all levels as well as the general public including individuals, civic organizations, and businesses. Nationally, more than 12,000 volunteer dentists and specialists, with the support of 3,200 participating laboratories, donate their time, materials, and expertise through the DDS program, which now functions in 36 states and has “safety-net” programs in place in the remaining 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Like so many indispensable cogs in a machine, thousands of compassionate individuals coalesce with their time, talent, and other unique resources to extend much-needed relief to a broad and immense, yet forgotten population by contributing in this coalition of care.

The primary fuel for this humanitarian engine is the revenue raised through the sale of the DentaCheques dental product value book. DentaCheques - a joint project of the Dental Trade Alliance and Colgate Oral Care Division, with tremendous support from Delta Dental Programs of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana and participation of more than 70 dental manufacturers and distributors - generates more than half of NFDH’s discretionary funding, each dollar of which is then leveraged by the Foundation into $15 in pro-bono, direct-service care for this country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Each year, NFDH - as it has since 1991 - offers the DentaCheques coupon book to dentists for a tax-deductible contribution of $99 and, in turn, affords purchasers more than $400 in free products, $100 in dealer credits, and hundreds of dollars of free product rebates in a “win-win-win” situation. The 72 companies involved in DentaCheques purchase space in the book for marketing and promotion; the dentists who purchase the book reap tremendous savings and are introduced to new and exciting products, while NFDH receives their contributions and uses them to facilitate real help to real people with real problems. The majority of these contributions would not have been possible however, without the thousands of caring individuals promoting DentaCheques through their positions as dental-product dealer sales representatives.

For several years, large and small dental distributors have provided the assistance of their sales forces to increase awareness and sales of DentaCheques. Across the country, dental-product sales representatives tout the benefits - both financial and altruistic - of the DentaCheques book while calling on their clients every day. The selfless efforts of these sales professionals result in hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed to NFDH each year in the form of DentaCheques sales. The Dental Trade Alliance (DTA) further supports and encourages this industry-wide involvement of sales professionals by awarding an all-expense-paid trip for two to the sales representative who wins the DentaCheques drawing held during the DTA annual session. Without the meaningful collaboration of the DTA and so many others in the dental industry, thousands of deserving, functionally disabled individuals would not receive the substantive and comprehensive dental therapies they need in order to eat properly or even smile again with confidence and dignity.

Take Tony Gyles of Pennsylvania as an example. Gyles is an 18-year-old who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 10. This disease - usually diagnosed in patients in their 20s or 30s - causes painful swelling of various parts of the gastrointestinal tract as well as rectal bleeding, weight loss, skin problems, arthritis, and vomiting. This vomiting in concert with the effects of maintenance medications left Tony with spectacularly poor oral health. His painful oral-health condition exacerbated the Crohn’s Disease by not allowing Tony to eat properly, and led to the need for several surgeries, including a colostomy.

Due to Tony’s distracting health problems, which include Attention Deficit Disorder and depression in addition to Crohn’s Disease, his mother teaches him and his 7-year-old sister (who also has various health problems) in a home-school setting, and she is therefore not otherwise employed. Tony’s father earns almost $3,000 a month as a telephone cable maintenance worker. Despite his severe health problems, Tony holds a part-time job at the local Blockbuster, which adds about $300 to the family’s monthly income. This income is not enough to pay off medical bills amassed by him and his sister and the family’s mortgage, let alone the $35,000 worth of extensive dental treatment Tony so desperately needed.

That’s when the Gyles family heard about Donated Dental Services. Through the DDS program, Tony was matched with generous volunteer dentists in his area. This team of local volunteers - consisting of a general practitioner, oral surgeon, endodontist and prosthodontist - agreed that it would be unfortunate to commit this young man to a lifetime of wearing removable dentures.

Working with that sentiment, the DDS coordinator in eastern Pennsylvania synchronized donations from this collection of volunteers with the donations of the prosthodontist’s preferred implant manufacturer and a local dental laboratory to ensure that Tony’s mouth would be completely restored.

Over several months, and with several sizeable donations of time, talent, expertise, and materials, caring professionals as well as compassionate members of the dental industry worked to restore Tony’s oral health. This complementary group worked through the DDS program to restore Tony’s remaining teeth, fabricate and place implants and fixed prostheses, and provide a bite splint to ensure the permanence and long-lasting quality of his newfound oral health. Tony is once again able to eat in a normal fashion and, most importantly, he has been given the “gift of a smile.” He is able to face his everyday challenges with a confidence and optimism never before possible.

Through the extraordinary support and participation of the dental industry, the revenue generated through the sale of the DentaCheques coupon book allows the NFDH to continue to operate and expand the DDS program. Just as the NFDH values the donations of dental professionals across the country, the Foundation could not help those most in need without the tremendous support of the dental trade industry. For every dollar raised for nationwide operating costs, the Foundation leverages $15 worth of donated care for people just like Tony Gyles.

The late Mother Teresa said, “I can do some things that you cannot do, and you can do some things that I cannot. What’s important is that everyone does what they can.” This philosophy has been the driving force behind the meaningful cooperation of caring individuals from dedicated board members and industry executives to dental office staff and case workers. NFDH acts as the funnel through which various and countless contributions are channeled, combined, and complemented and turned into pain-relieving, dignity-restoring oral health for those who need it most.

The National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped would like to extend its most profound gratitude to the myriad of dedicated, caring individuals who - through their everyday roles - go above and beyond their responsibilities to make the goal of helping those most in need a reality. Coordinating more than $100 million in pro-bono dental care has just been the beginning. The Foundation invites all who helped reach this goal, as well as those not yet involved, to return for a repeat performance. A goal of $200 million in donated, life-changing dental services is on the horizon, and becomes nearer every day as more and more compassionate individuals contribute selflessly in the humanitarian wheel of progress and assistance that NFDH works to expand and enhance.

Editor’s Note: For more information on NFDH or the DentaCheques program, please call (800) 366-3331.