Nonprofit program works to relieve the burden by providing dental care services to those with special needs.

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Dental care continues to be a top unmet health care need for many adults who are low-income senior citizens or living with a disability. U.S. health care policy is inconsistent and under the Affordable Care Act, dental care is deemed an essential benefit for children, but not for adults. Furthermore, basic Medicare coverage does not include dental care, leaving many adults over the age of 65 without any form of dental insurance.

“Unlike previous generations, people are living longer and keeping their teeth, which means that dental care for an aging population is more complex,” says Dr. Randi Tillman, chief dental officer for Guardian Life Insurance Company. “This population, along with people who have disabilities, are truly underserved given the structure of our current health care system.”

This poses a tremendous burden on vulnerable adults who don’t have access to dental care and need it to treat chronic dental conditions impacting their day-to-day life. In Washington, the Department of Health identified dental care as an unmet health need among low-income adults. The problem disproportionately affects the elderly and people with disabilities.

To address this pressing need Guardian recently awarded $125,000 to Dental Lifeline Network, a national nonprofit dedicated to providing dental care services to those with special needs to expand its flagship Donated Dental Services program in the state of Washington.

The expanded program will help more people like Kim, 44, who lives with her father and stepmother in King County. Kim has impaired cognition and short-term memory challenges and a series of other medical issues. In addition, her dental health had deteriorated, and she had several decayed teeth.

Kim and her family were unable to afford the dental treatment she needed. Surviving on food stamps and a small Social Security Disability benefit, the family struggles to make ends meet. Comprehensive dental treatment seemed like a luxury beyond their reach.

She was connected to the DDS program and an oral surgeon, Dr. Sasi Narra, extracted several teeth and smoothed her jaw bone. Then, prosthodontist Dr. Michael W. Johnson restored her teeth and with the help of PNW Prosthodontic Labs, Kim is in the process of getting a full upper denture and lower partial denture donated.

Lack of sufficient funds has slowed down the progress that DLN has been able to accomplish to treat more people like Kim in Washington. The organization relies on the Donated Dental Services to provide comprehensive dental care through a national network of 15,000 volunteer dentists and 3,700 volunteer laboratories. DDS works to provide life-changing oral health care to individuals with serious dental problems.

Tillman says, “Many patients take medications for common chronic illnesses which create dry mouth. Patients with dry mouth are at risk for a multitude of oral health problems, including decay and periodontal disease. The reduction in salivary flow creates an ideal breeding ground for the growth of bacteria.”

The donation from Guardian is just the start. To treat the applicants, the program will need more volunteer dentists in the King County area to step in and help provide their dental services.  To do so, Washington dentists and laboratories interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact DDS at (888) 623-2780 or visit WillYouSeeOne.org.

“We encourage local area dentists and laboratories to join us in our mission to serve Washingtonians in need,” says Tillman. “It takes very little time to make a significant difference in the life of one of your fellow citizens.”

“Though dentists and many labs donate their services, funding is still needed to support these volunteers,” says Fred Leviton, CEO, Dental Lifeline Network. “Thanks to Guardian’s contribution we’ll be able to do so and bring services to people in need who have no other way to get treatment.”

The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America is one of the largest dental insurers in the U.S. Founded in 1860, the New York-based company has paid dividends to policyholders every year since 1868. For more information, please visit Guardianlife.com.