Over the past six years, a Dental Action Committee, comprised of representatives from the Salvation Army, UPARC and Clearwater Free Clinic, met numerous times to address the critical need for access to dental care for low-income and developmentally disabled Pinellas County residents. The Committee then decided to establish a 501(c)3 organization called Community Dental Clinic, Inc.
Utilizing volunteers and strong community partnerships, the mission of the Community Dental Clinic, Inc. is to provide access to comprehensive and preventative dental healthcare and education to very low income families and children struggling to live at 200% and below the Federal Poverty Level and the developmentally disabled, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender and disability.
The urgent need for low-income dental services was substantiated in April 2009, when the Salvation Army in Clearwater, FL received the results from a “Needs Assessment Survey” that they had contracted through the University of Tampa, Tampa, FL. This survey cost the Army $30,000 to identify the top five social service needs in our area and it was not surprising to learn that dental health is the number healthcare need in our community; and it is growing exponentially.
It is well known to those of us associated with social services facilities and programs that there are no significant community dental programs and only a handful of extremely limited local and government programs available to the poor and the working poor. In addition, none of these programs serve the developmentally disabled.
- More than 390,000 individuals live below 200% of the Federal poverty level in Pinellas County and of this group, only 5% have access to dental care. The rate of poverty in Florida now exceeds 19%
- In the last year, the United States has seen the largest jump in poverty since 1959 and the working poor are the fastest growing segment of population in the U.S today
- Glaring disparities in children’s oral health and access to dental services are reported by the General Accounting Office and others. Low-income and minority children and those with special needs are at the greatest risk of inadequate access and poor oral health. Childhood oral disease has significant consequences for health and well-being that may not be appreciated because of the historic separation of medicine and dentistry.
- Important to us are the developmentally disabled in our community who have no access to dental healthcare at all because of their disabilities and research shows that oral health is now the number one prevalent unmet health care need of disabled children
- Routine dental care proves to be even a greater challenge and nonexistent for most low income families. According to Pinellas County Health & Human Services, 1 out of 10 emergency room visits are due to avoidable emergency dental issues and in the state of Florida, these avoidable dental health needs are the #3 reason for emergency room visits (#1 is flu/colds, #2 is headaches). There were more than 115,000 ER dental visits in 2010, resulting in more than $88 million in charges, a 40 percent increase from 2010
In addition, there is proven evidence through documented research that there is a very strong association between oral and physical health. This is especially problematic for the low income population who often find securing their health care needs sometimes impossible.
People who have poor dental health and do not have access to even basic dental care are at a much “higher risk” for the following health problems:
- Heart disease and Stroke
- Uncontrolled Diabetes
- Increased risk for delivering pre-term and/or low birth weight babies
- Increased risk of respiratory diseases and bacterial pneumonia
- Increased bacterial infections due to poor dental hygiene, especially those with bleeding gums who are prey to more than 700 different types of oral bacteria
- Research now shows that poor dental health can contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease