Imagine having a toothache that interferes with daily activities and disrupts your concentration. Now, imagine being unable to afford treatment.
Since 2003, Eastern Oklahoma Donated Dental Services Inc. (EODDS) has provided free dental services, preventive dental education and oral health supplies to older Oklahomans and people with disabilities or low income.
Tulsans Pam Beard and Margaret Lippert worked for a similiar dental organization based in Oklahoma City. When that group considered closing its Tulsa office, the two proposed a similar venture to the Tulsa County Dental Society. Beard and Lippert joined forces with three other Tulsa dentists to start the nonprofit.
"Dr. Michael Kinkaid was just adamant about doing something in Tulsa," says Michael H. Smith, EODDS executive director. "When you think about a person’s overall health ... there are different agencies to address all these issues, and when somebody has dental problems, that affects your whole life. That affects everything. I’ve had a toothache. I know how miserable that can be."
More than 300 member dentists provided $4.4 million in donated dental services in 2013. Member dentists apply and are vetted before joining the program, which offers continuing education credits.
In addition to the dentists’ donated time, funding from foundations supports the program. Most of the funds go toward dental supplies.
"So many of these dentists, you call them and say, ‘I’ve got a situation here, and it’s kind of an emergency,’" Smith says. "Just as quick as you can get it out, they say, ‘Send them over right now. We’ll find a way to work them in.’"
Smith says EODDS has grown into the largest dental outreach program in the country, due in part to the need, but also because of the generosity of the community.
Eastern Oklahoma residents can apply for services online at www.eodds.org or by calling 918-742-5544. One program serves people age 65 and older who have disabilities and receive income only from Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income. The second program works with low-income individuals.
EODDS partners with the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless; the Women in Recovery program of Family & Children’s Services; and Healthy Women, Healthy Futures, a program of The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center College of Nursing.
Smith joined EODDS this year after hearing about it from Kinkaid, his personal dentist. Smith knew he’d like working at the nonprofit when he retired; as a licensed professional counselor, observable results emerged more slowly than with EODDS.
"You get immediate gratification seeing these people before and after," Smith says. "I know this is a cosmetic issue for so many, but it’s so much more than that."
EODDS and women in recovery
EODDS has served more than 160 Women in Recovery (WIR) participants since 2010. Participants receive free dental work, from filling minor cavities and root canals to major dental surgery and dentures.
Mimi Tarrasch, WIR executive senior program director, describes the partnership as nothing short of amazing.
WIR is an alternative for eligible women who face incarceration for drug-related offenses. The program works with the court system and community partners to provide supervision, substance abuse and mental health treatment, education, workforce readiness training and family reunification services.
"A WIR participant received a full set of dentures, and that changed everything," Tarrasch says. Along with the increased opportunity for employment, "her self-esteem improved dramatically, her look softened and her outlook was much, much brighter," she says.
"That is a huge gift for WIR participants who desperately need the services but are unable to afford them."
The effects registered with Smith when he attended a WIR graduation.
"They all got up and told their stories," Smith says. "When they got up there, it showed a before-and-after picture. A lot of those women wouldn’t open their mouths. That ‘after’ picture was nothing but smiles from ear to ear."
Tarrasch says dental care is a critical, life-changing part of the WIR program.
"Women report being treated respectfully and know they are receiving the same quality care that a paying patient receives," Tarrasch says. "The best part is when they leave the program and begin working, along with the hope they can maintain visits to their dentist and pay for services themselves."
EODDS in the future
In 2013, Smith says EODDS funding sources provided $5.97 in dental services for every $1 granted.
"Our goal is going from $5.97 to $6.25," he says. "We want to give something back. We want to make every dollar go as far as we can."
EODDS, a Tulsa Area United Way agency, hopes to expand and is seeking member dentists throughout the area.
EODDS by the numbers
2,194 new patients
5,613 total dental visits
4,010 total hours donated
An average of 183 patients received
services per month
Source: EODDS 2013 end-of-year report