COOS BAY — Two years ago today, Advantage Dental began helping the Devereux Center’s homeless population with oral health.
Twice a month, clinic employees arrive to do oral exams, basic assessments and encourage anyone on the Oregon Health Plan to walk into the clinic for free cleanings.
“Sometimes people have a cavity on their back teeth and apply a treatment that stops it, slowing it down,” said Tara Johnson, executive director at the Devereux Center, which is the hub for helping feed local homeless and connect them to resources. “It leaves the tooth black, so it’s not something you want to do right in the front of the mouth.”
Johnson explained that having Advantage Dental show up regularly to help the homeless with their teeth is not only good because “keeping teeth clean isn’t high on their radar,” but it also shows them that people care. In fact, it was Advanced Health that brought Advantage Dental to the Devereux Center two years ago as a way to help the homeless population.
“Advantage Dental does triage, like when someone says they have horrible tooth pain, they do a quick exam and see it’s infected and direct them on the best course of action for treatment,” she said. “They have been a huge asset.”
Because Advantage Dental has been showing up at the Devereux Center consistently for two years, Johnson has seen the employees and homeless form friendships.
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“Sometimes I’ll walk out and see people sitting around having a conversation with them, not seeking dental advice,” she said. “This helps clients in restoring faith that people still care about them. The ladies who show up are friendly and engaging. They connect with these people who need help.”
While at the center, Advantage Dental also gives out toothbrushes, toothpaste and a dental hygiene kit.
In 2018, Advantage Dental screened 125 homeless. In the first quarter of 2019, 23 were referred to the clinic, completed 14 limited risk assessments, had 12 appointments scheduled on their behalf, and 11 people screened.
“They don’t fill cavities or do any in-the-chair work while they’re here, but their visits help people realize that dental health is important,” Johnson said. “Our numbers were higher in 2018 than they are this year, but I believe that’s because people have had attention paid to their mouth now.”
Even Johnson used Advantage Dental as a resource since she doesn’t have dental insurance right now. She recalled going up to them, showing her clients at the Devereux Center that everyone it is okay to have their teeth checked. She said she had a cavity in the back of her mouth which was slowed down so she would have time to go to a dentist before it got worse.
“It was a great stop-gap measure for me,” she said. “I’m thrilled people are beginning to understand that everyone’s life is important and valued, from teeth to mental health. We need to be treating the whole person.”