A renowned American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said, “Health is wealth”. However, for several less fortunate people, it is the lack of wealth that has denied them the access of essential health services. This remains the scenario of the healthcare segment worldwide, even after a number of leaps the industry has taken in all these years.
Headquartered in Texas, Dental Health Arlington (DHA) is a leading dental care provider that offers preventive and pain relieving services to low income residents as well as to educate children about appropriate oral hygiene habits.
Established as a non-profit organization, Dental Health Arlington (DHA) was born out of a 1991 United Way Needs Assessment looking for free or affordable dental services to serve the low income population of Southeast Tarrant County, Texas. A group of community leaders pooled their resources and opened a dental clinic in April 1992 with a donated space, two dental chairs, and a host of volunteers in Arlington, Texas. For a few hours each week, these dentists and hygienists would provide free dental services for their less fortunate neighbors.
Today, DHA serves a multitude of families through its dental clinic and has educated and treated number of students through its visionary ‘SMILES’ program, across Arlington and nearby areas.
DHA Dental Clinic
The DHA Dental Clinic has been providing emergent care and limited dental services for many years. Currently, it caters to over 2500 patients a year and provides all levels of comprehensive, preventive, and restorative dental services.
The clinic no longer provides free services, but a low cost, safety net solution for residents with no dental insurance coverage, as the long-term sustainability was difficult to maintain without providing a fee structure. However, DHA Dental Clinic serves its patients at 60% less than the reasonable and customary fees in the area.
The SMILES Program
One of the early indicators for DHA that the need of dental services far outweighed the resources was when the dentists kept noticing the children coming in with rampant caries and infections in their mouths. To serve more people with their little resources, the dental professionals decided to go to the Arlington schools to educate the children at a young age about the importance of dental health. In 1993, a pilot project to teach oral hygiene in a fun, engaging, age appropriate manner was started in two of the poorest elementary schools in Arlington. In addition to the education, a licensed dentist provided dental screenings for the students.
As the program expanded, additional preventive services were added, including decay-preventing sealants and fluoride treatments. Educational material was also provided to the parents. The program has since been renamed the SMILES (Sealing Molars Improves the Lives of Every Student) program.
Currently, SMILES is serving in 40 Title I schools. These free preventive services are delivered on campus with portable dental equipment similar to a mobile military dental unit. Oral Hygiene Instruction (OHI) provides 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders with age appropriate information in a low student to teacher ratio directly in the classrooms. After parental permission slips are signed, the children are screened by the dentist and then proceed to staff to place sealants and fluoride. Screenings provided by the licensed dentist provide the SMILES staff the opportunity to refer children with severe decay to the DHA clinic. There they are treated at no cost to the patient.
The latest SMILES statistics show that the decay rate in the students’ population has now dropped to below 28%. This program is invaluable to Arlington and Mansfield’s students and families. DHA has helped create a continuum of care for these families where there was none.
Recognition for Exemplary Contributions
DHA has received awards for its prolific approach to provide residents low cost dental services; most notably in 1999, it received The President’s Service Award for its SMILES Sealant Program.
President Bill Clinton presented it to DHA’s board President, Dr. Moody Alexander. In recent years, DHA received a $50,000 grant from Women Inspiring Philanthropy, a local group that helped the company expand its SMILES program from 29 to 40 elementary schools in Arlington.
An Empowering Leader
Nancy Manion Blinn, RDH, is the Executive Director of DHA. She is a Registered Dental Hygienist with a varied background in pediatrics, public health, hospital dentistry and special needs patients. She brings clinical expertise, enriched leadership experience along with exponential entrepreneurial prowess to DHA.
“The last 5 years have been a whirlwind of change, challenges, and growth! I have been fortunate to be at the helm of this transition from a humble beginning to a new clinic and treating up to 12,000 patients a year between our two programs!” says Nancy. She further adds, “My personal long-term vision is to be THE DENTAL RESOURCE in the Arlington area. I would love to see us expand our capabilities to provide for the veterans in our area, for the people experiencing homelessness, for the elderly and the special needs of adult population that has no access to care.”
Promoter of Holistic Community Health
Since its establishment, DHA has been dedicated to bring healthy dental services to all parts of the society, especially the patients with low earning. It has successfully served this purpose for several years now and wishes to continue the same further.
Speaking of their ultimate aim, Nancy asserts, “Currently, the clinic treats emergency toothaches but then reschedules them for a comprehensive exam. With that exam, they can get on a plan to improving their dental health, which in turn will improve their overall health. It is amazing how many people do not realize these two are so related. We often catch patients with high blood pressure or untreated diabetes and refer them to community clinics in the area for medical treatment. We are trying to change the culture from emergency treatments to preventive treatments. Education is huge piece of that, the staff takes great care with our patients so they understand that philosophy.”
Looking forward, DHA plans to expand the current services for several years to come with more providers. It envisions to continue providing compassionate and quality services to large number of people, who cannot really afford them otherwise.