Champions of Oral Health: Look Up Dental Clinic helps relieve pain for patients in need

Pat Riley, facility manager at the Look Up Center, and Susan Steinman, CODA and clinical operations provider at the Look Up Dental Clinic. Riley often helps out in the Look Up Dental Clinic by sterilizing equipment when the clinic is busy and repairing equipment as necessary. Steinman coordinates volunteers and oversees the operations of the clinic.

On the opening day of the Look Up Dental Clinic in August 2011, Susan Steinman took an X-ray of a young adult patient with a large swelling in his jaw and found he had a tumor. She prayed with him, and then contacted a local oral surgeon who treated the patient in coordination with Oral Surgery and Oral Pathology at The Ohio State University. This was just one of the many patients lined up for treatment who previously had nowhere to go for their dental pain. Steinman, CODA and clinical operations provider at the clinic, said when she left on that first day, she was overcome with emotion because of the patients in need that came to the clinic.

Thank you notes from appreciative patients and inspirational Bible verses cover the walls of the Look Up Dental Clinic, which is located in Newark. The clinic is inside the Look Up Center, a Christian community center located on the underserved east side of Newark. The center also provides many other community services including a free meal once a week, a shop where people can purchase extremely low cost appliances and furniture, and an after school program where students can get homework help and a “snack” that is big enough to serve as a meal in case they don’t get dinner at home.

The Look Up Dental Clinic treats uninsured adults who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. About 15 dentists have volunteered at the clinic (six of whom make up a core team that does most of the work), plus over 50 assistants and administrative volunteers have served there. Dental assisting students from a local technical school have been active in volunteering at the clinic, and Steinman said it’s a great opportunity for them to get hands-on experience. Steinman works at the clinic part-time to oversee the volunteers and keep the clinic up and running, and is the only paid employee.

The local 211 Crisis Line, an information and referral service staffed by Pathways of Licking County, handles all scheduling for the clinic. This helps to reduce the administrative burden of scheduling patients and allows the volunteers to focus on providing care. The service, which is contracted for a minimal fee, is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days per week.

“This service is an absolutely perfect fit to provide patients with any-time-of day contact for access to the clinic,” said Dr. Geoff Bauman, chair of the Look Up Dental Board and Ohio Dental Association member.

The clinic also provides brochures to local emergency departments so patients with dental needs who are eligible can be referred to the clinic for care, where they can receive a long-term solution instead of a temporary fix.

The clinic hours of operation are based on volunteer dentist availability up to two half-days per week. Patients are scheduled in one of two groups, early or late arrival, so that there is no “down time” for the staff who can continue to serve those patients in need. Patients who fail to keep their appointments must wait three months before rescheduling to hold them accountable.

Bauman said the clinic focuses on the most urgent need of dental patients, acute infection and pain, which is managed by removing the offending tooth or teeth. The clinic also refers patients to local specialists when a particular problem is beyond the scope of the clinic.

Steinman said the patients are often extremely grateful for the free care they receive at the clinic. One patient took five $1 bills out of her pocket to donate to the clinic. She didn’t have much, but wanted to thank the clinic for the care she received. Others have volunteered at the community center as a way to give back.

The clinic was the vision of Pastor Scott Hayes, director of the Look Up Center. Hayes worked with two local hygienists and a sales rep from Schein Dental Equipment Co. over a three year period to collect quality used dental equipment as other local dental offices updated their equipment. Bauman advised that for those looking to establish their own free clinic, talking to your dental equipment sales rep is a great way to find some quality “gently-used” equipment that may still have several good years of life when dental offices are turned over.

The center then approached the W.D. Miller Dental Society, and several member dentists formed the Look Up Dental Board. Bauman said one of the biggest challenges in opening the clinic was finding a way for dentists to own the clinic without owning the facility, because dentist ownership is required by state code. They were able to work with a local attorney to develop a non-profit charter for the board, which allowed the dentists to “professionally own” the clinic without financial investment or liability.

The Look Up Center Board is responsible for fundraising to cover the expenses of the facility, and individuals from the W.D. Miller Dental Society donated more than $15,000 in 2013. The Ohio Dental Association Foundation also awarded the clinic a $5,000 grant in 2013.

Since opening, the Look Up Dental Clinic has provided $450,526 worth of free urgent dental care to about 2,290 patients, extracting more than 3,135 teeth.

“My favorite part of the clinic is just doing the work and the feedback from patients, most of whom are so thankful for the service,” Bauman said.