A Day of Dental Outreach

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay, and dental cavities affect American children more than any other chronic infectious disease.

Many Philadelphians do not receive adequate oral care for a variety of reasons, including the cost of treatment, a lack of time, and a dearth of nearby accessible providers.

“There is a huge local population that doesn’t have good access to dental care,” says Heywood Kotch, assistant dean of clinical operations at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine.

In an effort to better provide for the city’s underserved residents, last month Penn Dental Medicine hosted an outreach event, “Nation of Smiles, One Smile at a Time.”

As an extension of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) annual meeting, nearly 200 dentists, hygienists, and students, including many from Penn, volunteered their time and expertise to offer free examinations, fillings, extractions, pain relief, and additional dental care to more than 500 underserved Philadelphians.

This was the third year that AGD and the AGD Foundation partnered with a dental school to donate oral care to a community. In 2011, the AGD meeting was held in San Diego, where volunteers provided roughly $80,000 of care, or $625 per patient. The 2010 outreach event provided nearly $100,000 in free oral care to approximately 180 underserved residents of New Orleans.

To identify Philadelphians in need of dental treatment, Kotch worked with Joan Gluch, associate dean and director of community oral health for Penn Dental Medicine; Glenn Bryan, assistant vice president of community relations in the Office of Government and Community Affairs; and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Clearly, Kotch says, one day of free treatment doesn’t erase the larger problem of poor dental health in underserved communities. But it did have a tangible and beneficial impact on the lives of the patients who were seen.

Text by Katherine Unger Baillie
Photos courtesy of Academy of General Dentistry