“Saving the world one tooth at a time,” is the Community Dental Clinic’s unofficial motto. While clinic staff does not intend to save the world with good dental care, they have been changing lives in south central Wisconsin.
Located in Fort Atkinson, the clinic provides discounted dental services to the people of Jefferson County with limited or no dental insurance. In addition, the health professionals, staff, and volunteers educate patients about the importance of oral hygiene to prevent future problems.
The Community Dental Clinic was dreamed up in 2005 in response to the growing number of people in Jefferson County without reasonable access to dental care. Since the clinic did not qualify for federal funding, it was decided that it would be established as a “safety net” clinic. According to the Institute of Medicine, a safety net clinic is defined as one that maintains an open door by offering access to services to patients regardless of their ability to pay. It also means a substantial portion of their patients are uninsured or have Medicaid.
Through generous grants from the Wisconsin Medical College and Delta Dental, a vacant clinic in a Fort HealthCare facility was renovated to hold six treatment rooms and house state-of-the-art dental equipment. Fort HealthCare’s annual contribution for rent forgiveness is valued at $60,000.
The Community Dental Clinic was officially opened in May 2007. For the first three-and-a-half years, the clinic offered the services of volunteer dentists and operated 8-12 hours a week. In 2010, the clinic hired its first dentist and added a hygienist the following year. Today, the clinic has 11 paid staff members, including two dentists, one hygienist, six dental assistants, a patient coordinator, and a clinic director. The clinic’s hours have also been extended; it is now open four days each week.
Much of this wouldn’t be possible without the volunteer staff. In 2012, the clinic had 654 hours of work from volunteer dentists and 151 hours of work from volunteer hygienists. However, the clinic is always looking for volunteers, regardless of their experience in the dental field.
Financial support has been crucial for the clinic’s success. In addition to the in-kind support provided by Fort HealthCare, the Jefferson County Health Department, United Way of Jefferson and North Walworth Counties, United Way of Watertown, Wisconsin Dental Association, and Watertown Memorial Hospital have also been consistent sponsors of the clinic’s mission.
The clinic has gained an additional 1,000 patients each year since 2010, treating 4,417 patients in 2012. Clinic Director Barb Morrison Gudgeon says the clinic receives 5-10 calls each day from new patients and provides services to 35-40 patients daily. Services include: examinations, routine cleanings, filings and restorations, extractions, treatment of abscesses, and oral hygiene education.
To be eligible for treatment at the Community Dental Clinic, individuals or families must have an income at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty level and have no dental insurance. Or, prospective patients must be eligible to receive dental insurance through Medical Assistance.
Patients also must reside in the Jefferson County townships of Ixonia, Oconomowoc, Helenville, Sullivan, Cambridge, Fort Atkinson, Lake Mills, Johnson Creek, Watertown, Palmyra, Whitewater, Edgerton, Jefferson, or Waterloo. Patients must provide a W-2 form, pay stub or bank statement, and proof of residency.
When asked where she sees the clinic in five years, Morrison Gudgeon says she hopes they are still open and functioning. Continual funding is always an issue, especially as grants are becoming few and far between; most grants focus on start-up funding rather than sustainability.
The Community Dental Clinic hopes to continue providing services to the underserved population of Jefferson County for many years to come. Whether its educating patients about oral hygiene, doing a routine cleaning, or filling a cavity, the clinic will continue “saving the world one tooth at a time.”
To make an appointment, volunteer, or donate, call the Community Dental Clinic at 920-563-4372.