Alaska’s dental care access changes lives

BY CAPTAIN SHERRY MCWHORTER – 

Lucas has been down on his luck for quite a while. After the trans-Alaska pipeline was finished, he couldn’t find steady work. After the oil crash in 1986, Lucas ended up on the streets. For a while, he barely managed to keep himself together.

Then the economy turned around, and Lucas had several job interviews. But every time, the employer took one look at him and shook his head. Let’s face it ­ no one looks his best with broken front teeth and a mouth full of cavities.

When you’re barely scraping by, dental work is usually not a top priority. But the fact is, it can make a huge difference ­ to your health, to your appearance, to your ability to get a job and climb out of poverty.

Lucas was fortunate, because he learned about The Salvation Army’s Dental Care Access program. Through the generosity of volunteer dentists, Lucas got his teeth fixed and his smile back in place. Now he has a job in a hardware store and is back on his feet.

The Fairbanks Corps began the Dental Care Access program in 1988, on the initiative of two young dentists, Drs. Ryle Radke and Brian Yamamoto. The program now has a roster of twelve dentists, one endodontist, and one oral surgeon who see The Salvation Army’s clients in their own offices. In addition, the program has operated an in-house clinic at the Army’s shelter in Fairbanks. Right now, the in-house clinic is on hold while a new facility is installed — a joint venture by the Army and the Fairbanks Rescue Mission.

Program Director Marianne Dudley, a retired nurse practitioner, runs a tight ship, holding clients accountable for keeping appointments, following doctors’ orders, and paying their $10 “responsibility fee.” Very strict eligibility criteria keep the services for the most in need, those with no other means of payment.

In the past year, the Fairbanks program provided 246 dental service visits at a donated value of $94,551.

In November 2000, the Alaska Dental Society praised The Salvation Army’s Dental Care Access program as “a unique…program that works!”

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