Southeast Michigan Dental Program Provides Emergency Service Referrals for Low-Income Patients
For people living paycheck to paycheck, routine dental visits often fall to the bottom of a long list of financial priorities.
If going to the dentist means your heat gets shut off, it’s a judgment call that’s easy to understand.
Karen Trompeter wants people to know that they don’t have to go without dental care. She’s the director of Tri-County Dental Health, a program of JVS Human Services based in Southfield. Tri-County Dental Health provides dental referrals to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne County residents who are low-income, families with Medicaid, or people with disabilities.
The dental program operates with Strengthening the Safety Net grant funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, as well as grants from other groups, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Through Tri-County’s Dental Emergency Assistance Program, people who are experiencing pain, infection, bleeding or swelling can receive free dental care from a network of nearly 80 volunteer professionals. Dentists are spread throughout the three counties, making it easy to match those in need with a qualified professional based on geography and scheduling needs.
“We do think there’s a real need in the community for the program,” Trompeter said.
One of the first dental free clinics to receive BCBSM funding in 2005, Tri-County’s staff arranges appointments for five to seven patients per month, with dental professionals donating more than $42,000 in treatment last year. The volunteers like that they can provide services right in their own office with familiar staff, instruments and materials.
Patients can get their emergency dental needs resolved in a timely, respectful fashion. According to satisfaction surveys, about 97 percent are completely out of pain and happy with services after their visit. They also indicate that they appreciate not feeling singled out for not being able to pay.
“A lot of them say I was treated just like anybody else in the office,” she said.
If someone is still in pain, Trompeter said Tri-County tries to determine why and offers help until the problem is resolved.
“We try to take it from start to finish,” she said. “If somebody is not out of pain, we want to make sure that they are.”
With the tie between oral health and overall physical health becoming clearer, Trompeter said programs like Tri-County’s are important to have in place. Whether someone is afraid to go to the dentist or has issues related to access and affordability, there is help available.
The program serves people with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Trompeter said the best way to access services is to call 248-233-4410. During the call, new patients will be assisted in filling out an intake form which helps verify eligibility and will then be matched with a volunteer dentist near them. Trompeter said people should leave a voicemail if the phone isn’t answered.
For more information about Tri-County Dental Health, visit their website.
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Photo credit: alfexe