Bulletin of Dental Education

University of Washington Oral Health Collaborative Connects Vets to Dental Care

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“What kind of dental care do you need?” asks the volunteer.

He wants a cleaning and a checkup, the man says. Tall and lank, looking rumpled and a little uncomfortable, he goes on. He’s trying to put his life back together and finding some dental care is part of the plan. 

For all its obvious drawbacks—six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, unexpectedly cold and socked in from the smoke of wildfires that dot the state—the day still holds opportunities. A turnout lower than expected opens space for listening to individual stories like the one this man tells at a respectful social distance. 

Welcome to the scaled-down Seattle Stand Down (SSD) held Saturday, Sept. 12, in the parking lot of The Fairview Church in Seattle. The two paper bands that circle the man’s wrist—one green, one blue—tell volunteers he has successfully passed the health and temperature screening at the parking lot entrance. Standing in front of the dental table, he continues his story. Once he was married, had children and a teaching job. Now he’s lost everything—his marriage, his children and his job—to PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). He’s a homeless veteran, uninsured, living alone on the streets of Seattle.

Equipped with face masks, hand sanitizer, sealed personal oral hygiene kits and dental resource business cards, University of Washington Oral Health Collaborative (UWOHC) volunteers sit on the other side of the table. They are among the handful of providers who participated in the mini stand down for homeless and at-risk veterans. The event was a stop gap measure put in place by the SSD organization to help compensate the veteran community for cancellation due to COVID-19 of what would have been the 10th annual full-service fair, complete with onsite oral health screening and dental care. SSD hopes to host three more mini stand downs with dates and sites still to be determined.

On an individual level, the dental outreach table at the mini stand down was a place to ask questions and find resources for accessible oral health care. In addition to the dental resource cards with local phone numbers and tri-county public health websites, UWOHC volunteers explained free Medicaid/Apple Health dental coverage and how to apply. They also provided phone numbers and directions to the University of Washington and other local dental clinics that accept state insurance coverage.

Connecting veterans to oral health care through onsite outreach and referral is the focus of the UWHOC’s new community service initiative. Reflecting the Collaborative’s longstanding mission to “promote oral health through education and services,” the new initiative is the first step in the group’s development of a dental case management model that would provide ongoing assistance and support to assure that veterans are able to navigate the service delivery system successfully and receive the dental care they need.

Norma J. Wells, RDH, M.P.H., Associate Professor Emerita, University of Washington School of Dentistry, Department of Oral Health Sciences, founded the Collaborative in 1995 as a vehicle for delivering nontraditional oral health outreach, education and preventive oral health care to rural, underserved and marginalized communities throughout the state of Washington.

Courtesy of Pat Brown, UWOHC Coordinator

Published on October 14, 2020

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