Smiles of HOPE
- Need: To provide affordable exams and tooth extractions to adults unable to afford traditional dental care.
- Intervention: Smiles of HOPE, a faith-based charity clinic inside Lighthouse Church in Dexter, Missouri, provides reduced-cost tooth extractions for residents in need.
- Results: Over 3,000 patients in the region have had over 9,000 painful or infected teeth pulled, collectively saving them over $3 million in dental care costs.
According to a 2014 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, around 2.4 million adults in the state are without dental coverage. Unable to afford check-ups or treatments for minor concerns, many have to put off dental care until an infection sends them to the emergency department. If left untreated, infections in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body.
Smiles of HOPE was founded by three Dexter residents: Kevin De Arman, Dental Minister for Smiles of HOPE; Sr. Pastor Tim Russell of the Lighthouse Church; and Dr. William T. Kane, who has had a dental practice in town for over 30 years. Dr. Kane and other dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants from various states can volunteer at Smiles of HOPE, since Missouri allows dentists and dental hygienists from other states to provide gratuitous services fourteen times per year.
To learn more about Smiles of HOPE from the volunteer dentists, view this eight-minute video:
The monthly clinic first began inside a mobile dental unit provided by Southeast Missouri State University, where De Arman is employed as Program Manager. Thanks to demand and donations, Smiles of HOPE has been able to move into the top floor of the Lighthouse Church. The clinic currently holds ten dentist chairs, including one chair on the first floor for any patients with mobility impairments. The clinic also holds a dedicated sterilization area and a locked medicine room.
Patients either register online or through the mail. The cost of registration is $20; patients pay an additional $5 for any tooth that needs to be pulled. On the fourth Saturday of each month, patients gather as early as 5:00 a.m. to be assessed and then treated around 9:00. Volunteers have reported that they've treated patients from as far away as Kentucky and even West Virginia.
Smiles of HOPE is funded by patients' fees and fellow dentists' donations of equipment, most of which is state-of-the-art.
Smiles of HOPE provides patients from around the country with:
- Brief medical exams
- Evaluations of needs
- Numbing injections before surgery
- Tooth extractions
- Referrals to other services, if needed
Volunteers from the Dexter community also provide a full breakfast for the patients, who will find it temporarily difficult to eat after a tooth has been pulled.
Smiles of HOPE has extracted over 9,000 teeth and treated over 3,000 patients. The clinic's work has collectively saved these patients over $3 million in dental care alone, not taking into account other healthcare-related costs.
In 2017, Smiles of HOPE has partnered with A.T. Still University, Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health, to provide 20 veterans with full dentures at no cost.
Smiles of HOPE started with very little equipment, but the clinic became more fully equipped as more donations poured in.
Not all dentists are willing to give up a Saturday for volunteer work, so Smiles of HOPE is always recruiting volunteers. It currently has 12 dentists who volunteer with the clinic, about half of whom volunteer on a regular basis. If additional dentists participated, the average 4- to 5-month backlog for patients could be reduced significantly. Currently, 400 patients are waiting for treatment.
Since Smiles of HOPE is limited in the equipment it receives, services have been limited to tooth extractions. Even patients who just need their teeth cleaned or a filling restored have to be referred to another service. Program coordinators hope to someday provide a full-care dental clinic or same-day dentures for their patients. Such services will involve more outside funding, as the program is committed to keeping patients' fees low.
Contact InformationKevin De Arman, Dental Minister
Smiles of HOPE
Community and faith-based initiatives
Community engagement and volunteerism
June 8, 2016
Date updated or reviewed
June 21, 2018
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