Nonprofit Dental Clinic Fills a Need

Nonprofit Dental Clinic Fills a Need

Serving more than 2,500 low-income patients a year.

Referring Agencies

Emergency and initial appointments to the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic must be scheduled through designated referring agencies only.

Arlington County

  • Department of Human Services: 703-228-5170

  • Arlington Free Clinic: 703-979-1400

City of Alexandria

  • Department of Human Services: 703-746-5700

  • Mental Health/Substance Abuse: 703-746-3500

  • Neighborhood Health: 703-535-5568

City of Fairfax

  • Department of Human Services: 703-385-7894

Fairfax County

  • Northern Virginia Family Services: 571-748-2593 or 571-748-2500

  • United Community Ministries: 703-768-7106 (Alexandria, Ft. Belvoir, Lorton)

  • Multicultural Center/NVFS: 571-748-2800 (Annandale, Falls Church)

While there are plenty of people who dread routine appointments to the dentist, the people in the scariest of situations are those who simply cannot afford to seek this critical care. And, because too many people today are in this unsettling position, the Northern Virginia Dental Society (NVDS) established the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic (NVDC) to provide low-income residents with affordable treatment.

“The program was one of the first of its kind in the nation and continues to serve the indigent population of our community,” said Tom Wilson, NVDC executive director. “NVDC opened in 1994 and provides a comprehensive menu of services from the basic dental exams, fillings and teeth cleanings, to specialized treatment including root canal therapy, oral surgery, and the fabrication of dentures and other prosthetic appliances. The NVDC’s goal is to restore each individual to an infection free and functional state of oral health.”

Although NVDS is a professional organization of local dentists, its membership supports its nonprofit clinic.

“NVDC has always been the society’s primary outreach program and our members volunteer their time, skill, and make monetary contributions regularly,” said Cathy Griffanti, NVDS executive director. “Our clinic(s) provide the low-income population in our community with a true dental home where they receive ongoing oral health care and education.”

Facilities like NVDC are often a qualified patient’s only avenue to life-saving dental treatment.

“While there is an avenue for low-income children to seek oral health care, there is nothing for adults,” Wilson said. “Through Medicaid, there are very limited healthcare services for adults. Those services are limited to one emergency extraction, diagnostics, and then there is limited care for pregnant women.”

NVDC, with two locations in Fairfax and Sterling, currently serves thousands of patients a year. By charging just $50 per appointment, regardless of the nature of treatment, procedures are affordable for people who have no dental insurance or a way to pay out-of-pocket. Under normal circumstances, for instance, even a simple cavity filling would eclipse the NVDC per-visit cost.

There are 23 regular staff members; however, the 120 NVDS volunteers, along with roughly 50 regular volunteer dental hygienists from the Northern Virginia Dental Hygienists’ Association, make these affordable services possible.

Amidst the emergence of other similar dental clinics for the low-income population in Northern Virginia, NVDC has experienced much growth since its inception nearly 24 years ago.

“We serve over 2,500 patients a year, and provide more than 10,000 appointments per year,” said Wilson, who has overseen NVDC for more than 20 years. “We did about 3,000 appointments total in 1997, the year I came. It’s been a steady growth with lots of hard work from volunteers, the board and staff. We’re hoping to move that number of annual appointments up to the 12,000 level in the next year and a half.”

NVDC relies on a number of grants from government programs and private foundations. The most recent grant the non-profit organization accepted was from the Virginia Healthcare Foundation (VHCA).

“The primary initiative in securing the grant money is to increase the clinic’s service capacity,” Griffanti said. “The funding recently awarded by the VHCF will enable NVDC to hire two part-time dentists at the Fairfax facility, a part-time registered dental hygienist, and a full-time dental assistant. This additional staff will allow us to provide an additional 2,000 patient appointments.”

Wilson said examples of other crucial sources of revenue are Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Inova Health Systems, Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States and United Way of the National Capital Area.

Since it would be impossible for NVDC to treat every single Northern Virginian in dental distress, the clinic works with social services organizations in each jurisdiction for the patient selection process.

“As a program, we don’t decide who comes to us,” he said. “Each jurisdiction identifies low-income residents throughout their jurisdiction and screens them for eligibility. Everyone we see, though, is at or below 200 percent of poverty. What that means in Northern Virginia, where the median annual household income is about $110,000, you’re talking about the majority of the people we serve having an annual income of around $37,000.”

From their first visit, patients have one year to complete the treatment plan that NVDC practitioners outline for them. According to Griffanti, approximately 78 percent of NVDC patients complete their treatment plan. This translates to thousands of lives saved.

“Oral health is linked to poor overall health conditions,” Wilson said. “It affects pregnancies, infants of pregnant women, it has links to Crohn’s disease and a whole list of conditions. That’s why we provide the full gamut of treatment for patients. Our focus is on functional restoration, but of course aesthetics always come into play.

“A lot of women come and talk to us with their hands covering their mouths,” Wilson said. “You wouldn’t believe the self-esteem that comes back to these individuals after a couple of months of treatment.”

Programs like NVDC benefit the community at large, as well. The more patients that visit designated oral health care providers, the less often people will visit emergency facilities with debilitating pain caused by tooth-related infections.

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