We are now well into 2019… how are those New Year resolutions holding up? Are you still going strong? Or have you given up hope? Just remember, it doesn’t have to be a new year for you to better yourself! But don’t improve just your personal life—remember to think about ways to improve your professional life as well.
In Part 1 of this series highlighting clinical volunteer opportunities across the country, we discussed how returning to the op in the new year is the perfect time for dental hygienists to step back, evaluate their professional selves, and make career-oriented changes both within their clinical practice but also outside of the op. For many dental hygienists, volunteering in a clinical capacity has been an effective way to give back to the community, expand a professional network, and positively impact both their personal and professional lives at the same time!
Today we highlight Angela Craig, RDH, BSDH, and her work with Dentists for the Disabled and Elderly in Need of Treatment, Inc. (D-DENT). Located in Oklahoma City, D-DENT is a non-profit charity and was founded in 1986 by a small group of dentists as a way for dentists to care for their private dental patients and charitable cases in the comfort of their own dental clinics—thus enabling charitable cases to become a part of their everyday practice. Serving as Oklahoma’s last dental safety net, D-DENT thrives on its core philosophy of Recruit, Restore and Educate. To learn more about D-DENT, visit www.d-dentok.org.
I had the privilege of interviewing Angela Craig in order to learn about her role as Community Oral Health Coordinator as well to dive into the history, mission, and future of D-DENT.
MT What is D-DENT’s mission?
AC D-DENT’s mission is to help improve the oral health of Oklahomans-in-need by providing oral health care education and free comprehensive dental care through a statewide network of volunteer dental professionals.
MT What is the intended patient population?
AC Many Oklahomans turn to D-DENT after finding out that neither Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veterans Administration provide dental care. Our largest target population is the elderly (60 years or older), those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and veterans. We provide them with FREE oral health education, FREE oral cancer screenings, and FREE comprehensive dental care.
MT How does the program work and what specific services does it offer?
AC D-DENT owes its 33-year success to its core philosophy of Recruit, Restore and Educate. The D-DENT restorative process begins with recruiting volunteer dental professionals who are willing to partner together to assist those in need. Currently, D-DENT has over 500 volunteer dental professionals participating in our program. With this base, we are able to provide full mouth restoration to approximately 700 clients per year.
D-DENT’s restorative dental care program began in 1986 and serves to coordinate volunteer dentists’ efforts with the dental needs of eligible patients. Volunteer dentists work out of their private clinics, donating their office staff, equipment, and procedures. D-DENT pays for laboratory fees that dentists normally incur during the restoration process to cover dentures, partials, or crowns.
Our innovative and proactive oral health education program began in 1999. Through this program, a dental hygienist reaches out to communities to present the most current oral health care information. This program offers free screenings and dental supplies to the elderly and developmentally disabled. We reach out to group homes, adult day cares, senior nutrition sites, and senior community centers in order to ensure that seniors and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have access to care.
MT How did you first become involved with D-DENT?
AC I started volunteering with D-DENT as a dental hygienist during Community Service Days. Twice each year the organization and volunteers provide free dental services at a local non-profit dental clinic. After volunteering for two years, I was so impressed with D-DENT’s program and staff, and I began my role as Community Oral Health Educator.
MT What does it mean to be a Community Oral Health Educator?
AC I am honored to be a part of this organization as a Community Oral Health Educator. It provides me with the venue and opportunity to advocate for vulnerable populations while promoting the importance of oral health. Through this program, I provide free educational presentations to patients and caretakers in group homes, senior nutrition centers, and living centers. I am fortunate to be involved in a profession where so many of my colleagues feel as passionate about oral health care as I do.
MT What does a typical day look like for you?
AC I arrive at 9 am and set up in an enclosed room to begin providing oral cancer screenings. If there are any areas of concern, they are documented on a form for the patient to take to their dentist or physician. If the patient has a dentist, they are referred back to their dental home. Otherwise, we work with the patient to find a physician or dentist who can address the area of concern. I perform the screenings in a private area so that the patients feel free to take out their dentures and partials. At this time, I am also able to provide one-on-one attention to address their questions and review home care. At 11:30, I take a break in screenings to present an oral health educational program while the patients are eating lunch. I then return to screenings until everyone has been seen. Each participant is given oral care tools like toothbrushes, floss, toothpaste, denture baths, smoking cessation information, and products to help with dry mouth.
MT In your opinion, what are some of the benefits dental professionals receive by volunteering in a clinical capacity?
AC Volunteering with D-DENT provides many benefits to the clinician. For example, volunteers are able to give back in their own community and at a frequency of their choosing. They are able to choose the population they feel most passionate about and then volunteer from the comfort of their private dental clinic or choose to volunteer at D-DENT’s Community Dental Days. Lastly, time spent volunteering with D-DENT is eligible for C.E. credit.
MT What impact has D-DENT had on the community and on your personal and professional lives?
AC I have spent many years giving presentations on oral health but was never able to provide firm solutions as to how patients could get their dental needs met. Now during my presentations, thanks to the work of D-DENT, I am privileged to offer communities hope. Last year alone, $1,156,143 worth of donated comprehensive dental care was provided. This included 216 oral cancer screenings through our preventive program, and 718 patients received comprehensive dental care in our restorative program! I am honored to be a part of this group of people and this wonderful organization.
Are you looking for a way to give back, expand your professional network, and positively impact both your personal and professional lives? If so, consider volunteering in a clinical capacity in your own community!