The Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council offers services through the Community Dental Clinic that is committed to relieving suffering, restoring human dignity, and promoting self-sufficiency by providing basic dental care to people in the community who have no other resources available.
The Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council (C-SCDC) operates the Community Dental Clinic for persons who need basic dental care and cannot afford a dentist. Treatment is performed by licensed and experienced volunteer dentists from the community who graciously give of their time.
The Dental Clinic operates primarily through voluntary services offered by local dentists and senior dental hygiene students at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Sometimes, the clinic has money to pay a dentist part-time. Of the 88 dentists in Sebastian and Crawford counties, 40 volunteer. Dental hygiene students provide hygiene services to patients, at the clinic, during the spring semester and at the UAFS Dental Hygiene Clinic during the fall and spring semesters at a significant discount. Each professional has malpractice insurance, while the Good Samaritan Law covers the Dentists and Hygienists who volunteer their services.
The clinic is housed in a former dental office purchased by C-SCDC through support from the William T. and Mary P. Hennessy Foundation. The building required a bit of restoration and updating in order to provide services to the patients. Countless hours were provided by volunteers redoing the floors and refitting the treatment rooms. The facility has three treatment rooms, a sterilization lab, panoramic X-ray in the dental assistant’s office donated by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, kitchen, break room/dentist office, lobby, front desk area, Director’s office, and one handicap accessible bathroom. The clinic is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM.
Clinic services are restricted to extractions, some oral surgery services, limited fillings, and a limited number of dentures. A $5 donation is requested from patients getting extractions and an Extraction Consent Form must be signed. The majority of clinic patients require extractions and eventually dentures. Dentures and/or partials are provided to patients in need through funding from Delta Dental. Senior hygiene students provide prophy (dental cleaning) to patients in the spring semester or a volunteer Hygienist will occasionally provide dental cleaning. Fillings are provided on an extremely limited basis.
Each patient is given an oral cancer screening at their first appointment. Clinic patients have a higher risk of oral cancers due to alcohol and tobacco usage in combination with limited access to oral check-ups – see Warning Signs of Oral Cancer. A panoramic X-ray and oral treatment plan is documented in the patient’s chart at the first visit. After the Dentist determines the needs of the patient, their name is placed on all appropriate waiting lists for services.
Patients are most often treated at the clinic, but occasionally they must be referred out to a dental office for oral surgery or fillings. A retired oral surgeon volunteers at the clinic a few times a year allowing us to treat surgical extractions and prepare patients for dentures when a surgical procedure called alveoplasty is needed.
Children are provided services on a referral basis. Low income families with no dental insurance for their children may apply for services; if eligible a referral will be obtained to receive services from an area Pediatric Dentist who provides care to the children who qualify. Many of the patients receive SSI or Social Security Disability. Some of the clients are striving to get off welfare while others are the working poor, with no dental insurance.
A number of approaches are used for volunteer recognition. Photos of the volunteers are displayed on a bulletin board in the clinic, plus newsletters and an Annual Report also feature information about specific forms of volunteer support. The mayor signs a thank you letter that is sent to every volunteer at the end of each year. This is in addition to a volunteer recognition ad that is published at no cost by the local newspaper each December.
The Community Dental Clinic is seeking to build a new facility that would enable treatment for more patients through the ability to have more than one dentist or Hygienist and a Dentist at the same time. Floor plans have been developed and property purchased to begin the next phase in the progression of the clinic.
Another need to be addressed in the future is the ability to provide emergency treatment. Many clinic patients suffer with abscesses on a regular basis with nowhere to turn for antibiotics or emergency treatment. There isn’t a dentist in the building every day and that limits the ability to provide emergency services. As a result, most patients have to find access to medical services in order to get the abscess treated.
Sources of financial support for the Dental Clinic have included:
- Community Development Block Grant from the City of Fort Smith
- Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas (BlueCross BlueShield) to provide needed emergency dental services to indigent, poor or elderly patients
- Delta Dental of Arkansas
- Tobacco Settlement Funds to support oral cancer screenings
Various online resources are available to support oral health education activities including:
- American Dental Association
- Mouth and Teeth from Medline Plus
- Oral Health from WebMD
- Kids Health from the Nemours Foundation
- BAM! (Body and Mind) CDC web site for ages 9-13
- National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research – For Kids and Teachers
- Dental Health Education Resource Guide for Pre-K to Grade 2 and Grades 3-5 from the California Dental Association
- National Institute on Aging – Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth
The importance of the clinic to the community was highlighted in a newspaper article at the end of 2007.
The Dental Clinic offers approximately $450,000 of services through in-kind labor from area dentists and dental hygiene students. A contribution form is used to document support for the clinic.
Services rendered during FY’07 include:
- 839 total volunteer hours including 418 hours volunteered by dentists
1,367 patients treated in the clinic (note: this does not include pediatric or other referrals for services outside of the clinic)
67 dental cleanings (prophy)
407 first-time exams for adults
402 cancer screenings
43 dentures (full, partial or repair)
1,966 teeth extracted
Nenya Perry, Dental Clinic Director