TRAVERSE CITY — A local program offers dental care to needy patients but could use more resources to help more people.
The Dental Access Program has offered services for free or greatly reduced cost for about five years. The Traverse Heatlh Clinic program requires enrollment through the Coalition Health Access Program, which considers eligibility factors such as income, assets, insurance status and residency in Benzie, Grand Traverse or Leelanau counties.
The dental program currently serves 550 patients. There are scores more who need dental care, but the program lacks the funds and could use more volunteer dentists to assist them, said Sherri Fenton, the clinic's development director.
About 37 local dentists work with the Dental Access Program. The majority volunteer, though a few dentists are compensated a "nominal" fee, Fenton said.
Patients also may participate in a program to volunteer for an organization for a certain number of hours in exchange for the dental services. The clinic's Dental Health Director Rene Louchart said patients who volunteer appreciate that they are able to contribute to their care, making the program "really successful." Many require multiple trips to the dentist to correct problems. Extractions, root canals and crowns are common procedures, Louchart said.
"Dental health, which we have focused on, is a vital part of their overall health," she said.
Maeeda Kenaya, of Traverse City, is among the patients who have benefited from the dental program. She sought help last fall. Kenaya, who had always taken care of her oral health, lost a job and needed to finish in-progress dental work. She was referred to several dentists who participated in the Dental Access Program, including Dr. Jon Zoutendam, of Traverse City, and an endodontist and oral surgeon.
"There is such a high demand for care," said Kenaya, who thanked the dentists who helped her and encouraged more local dentists to participate.
"It's really a gift, and it's a service of the heart," she said.
Zoutendam has participated in the access program for about three to four years. He said the program was a chance to give back to the community and address the "very high need."
"Some are in pain, some broke a tooth, some need root canals. You see everything," he said.
He recommended other dentists join the effort, even if they only have the time to see one patient a month.
"You just have to take a little time out of your schedule and help people out," Zoutendam said.
For those who aren't dentists but would like to help, the clinic is in the middle of a Save a Smile donation drive.
Throughout September, the clinic is collecting adult toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss at drop boxes located at the clinic on Logan Valley Road in Traverse City, Tom's Food Markets, WLJN and Northwestern Bank sites in the clinic's three county coverage area.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, the clinic is a sponsor of the 25-cent children's movie "Tooth Fairy" at the State Theatre. Tooth care kits will be distributed.