Big Help on a Local Level by Michael A. Kincaid, DDS

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Whether you have experienced it, everyone knows how uncomfortable life can be with dental pain. Pain caused by infection, mobility, malocclusion and TMD issues or embarrassment from missing teeth can make daily living miserable. Now, imagine not being able to do anything about these disorders because of physical, mental, emotional or financial challenges, challenges that trump any possibility of restitution. With nowhere to turn for help, these people are often led down the path toward complete despair.

This nightmare is reality for many. Like every other state in the United States, Oklahoma has its share of these unfortunate people. When this agonizing scenario infiltrates the lives of compromised victims trying to cope with their maladies, most state and local agencies are ill-equipped, unable or unlawfully allowed to intervene. These individuals often end up in a hospital emergency room for relief or simply suffer without treatment.

In April of 2003, Pamela Beard and Margaret Lippert, two benevolent and altruistic women, came before the Executive Board of the Tulsa County Dental Society with a plea to protect and preserve the Tulsa branch of an existing donated dental service program (D-Dent) in Oklahoma City. Pam's and Margaret's efforts to provide local citizens with the care they so desperately needed were conflicted by those higher up in the system.

During the next couple of months as then-vice-president of the Tulsa County Dental Society, I put together a task force committee to study the feasibility of forming a local organization supported by local agencies that would provide donated dental service to locals without the resources or opportunity to receive dental treatment. Dr. Steven Lusk chaired the committee and later became the first president of the EODDS Board of Directors. He discovered that the need for Tulsa-area dentists to provide donated services was substantial, actually overwhelming.

In June of that same year, Eastern Oklahoma Donated Dental Services, Inc., was formed in Tulsa to ensure the provision of comprehensive dental care to financially challenged Oklahomans residing in the eastern half of the state. Local dentists – 144 of them – joined as charter member dentists and began providing complete dental services to these qualified patients. At that time, patients who "qualified" for the program were 65 or older with mental or physical disabilities. The treatment rendered for these patients now comprises Phase I. The Vulnerable Populations Program (or Phase II) was created to address the dental needs of financial challenged patients, regardless of age, who suffer with personal, mental or physical needs. With certain limitations, patients receive whatever care they need from every discipline of dentistry, including operative, fixed and removable prosthetics, periodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics, TMD therapy and implants. The administrative staff coordinates the participation of member dentists to complete each patient's case.

EODDS' success is due to a few individuals' determination. Pamela Beard, the current executive administrator and Margaret Lippert, assistant director, have demonstrated the courage and compassion for seeking the participation of area dentists to provide the necessary care to heal those with no other options for help. Diligently working with area philanthropic organizations and corporate agencies, their efforts led to EODDS's nomination for the Non-profit Organization of the Year in Oklahoma, just four years after it was formed.

Dr. Gary Burnidge has also been instrumental. As an oral maxillofacial surgeon, he was selected as the Tulsa People's Volunteer of the Year for Commitment to receive the highest award in this category because of his dedication and concern for aiding the less fortunate with dental issues. Dr. Burnidge says: "The beauty of the organization is that it allows dentists to perform procedures in their own offices on challenged patients just as though they were paying for the services. Great care is taken to preserve patient dignity and privacy."

Oklahoma is just one state, but EODDS has a significant impact. Since EODDS was incorporated in January of 2004, more than 300 member dentists now provide dental services to eastern Oklahomans. Last year alone, participating dentists provided approximately $4 million in services. Currently, EODDS dentists deliver care to an average of 185 patients a month with a constant waiting list of more than 1,500. Every day 25-50 applications for care are received. From the inception of the program through 2012, more than 10,600 patients have been treated to completion. No region or state comes close to these actual numbers in donated dental services for those in need.

EODDS operates using grants from charitable foundations which include the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Zarrow Families' Foundations and Chapman Charitable Trust. EODDS proudly partners with the, Anderson, Flint, Hille, Bovaird and Bernsen Foundations along with considerably generous contributions from the Delta Dental Oral Health Foundation of Oklahoma, INCOG and Tulsa Area United Way. The funding is strictly used for administrative fees, staff and laboratory expenses. Past contributors include the Tulsa Health Department and the Oxley Foundation. Without the compassionate generosity of these philanthropic organizations, EODDS would not be the number-one donated dental service program in the nation.

The future looks even brighter. The continued increase in participating dentists, the incredible amount of comprehensive care flourishing and the ever-growing compassion of everyone involved in the success of EODDS makes a "feelgood" story feel great. It demonstrates the generous nature of people in the dental industry. Everyone associated with this great profession can take pride in knowing that efforts are being made to make a difference in the lives of those who desperately need a hand, not just to help them out but, in many cases, to help them up.

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