Pages Navigation Menu

A publication for and about state employees

Olympia Union Gospel Mission: From Pulling Teeth to Saving Lives

“After chemo and radiation on my jaw, my teeth began to disintegrate,” shared Stephanie.  Medical insurance covers a number of health costs, but what does a low income person do for dental care?

Stephanie was one of those individuals that had no dental insurance and no means to pay. The No-Fee Dental Clinic at the Olympia Union Gospel Mission and was recommended to her.  Nine cancerous tumors were taken out of her jaw, and the treatment caused acute dental pain.  “I brushed regularly and took care of my teeth all my life.  I thought I was going to lose them if it hadn’t been for the volunteer dentists at the Mission’s Clinic.  I’m deathly afraid of the dentist, but they were so compassionate helping me save my teeth – it was a miracle.”ougm

The Mission’s No-Fee Dental Clinic started in 2002.  There were a mix of patients, but most were homeless. Then there was a transition into low income working people with no insurance and no means to pay.  With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, some of these folks were able to get treatment.  Their presence was replaced by an ever-increasing spectrum of individuals with quite serious diseases, as well as dental issues.

“What we see today are low income patients that have adequate medical insurance, but are uninsured for dental care.  Manh, a recent patient of the Clinic, couldn’t be placed on a kidney transplant list until oral infections and other issues in his mouth were addressed.  Patients undergoing surgery, cancer treatment, or transplant can end up with infection that would be difficult to control.  Providers are reluctant to do chemo or radiation therapy, joint replacement surgery, and a variety of conditions, while oral infection is untreated,” says Executive Director Loren “Skip” Steffen.

The Mission’s Clinic has had a huge shift in focus and in the level of complexity in patient management. The Clinic personnel are now tasked with getting a history on the patient’s oral health and also trying to factor in their medical history.  “Now,” Steffen says, “patients coming through the doors are on a variety of medications.  Some are on blood thinners, anticoagulants, and if you were to do an extraction the question becomes would they stop bleeding in a timely manner.”

There is also the ever-increasing senior population that does not have the financial resources from Social Security to cover dental care.  A diabetic senior citizen compromises the ability to control the disease because of dental infection and can’t afford regular hygiene therapy to heal gum disease and lessen tooth decay.

Today, the No-Fee Dental Clinic annually schedules over 1,800 appointments and provides the community with $475,000 worth of dental health care through the generosity of 40 dental professional volunteers.  When not volunteering for the Mission, these professionals and community donors raise nearly 40% of the Clinic’s budget through a yearly dental benefit show at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

CFD Charity Code# 0316533

468 ad