ODA Foundation grant recipient aims to provide dental home for kids in need

Dr. Timothy Edwards

Dr. Timothy Edwards, a founding board member of KidSMILES Dental Clinic, sees a patient at the Columbus-area clinic. The ODA Foundation recently awarded the dental clinic a $5,000 grant.

The ODA Foundation awarded the KidSMILES Dental Clinic with a $5,000 grant to help the Columbus-area clinic help provide a dental home to kids in need.

KidSMILES is a volunteer-led non-profit dental clinic that provides care to children 18 and younger whose families are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Patients pay $10 per visit, regardless of the treatment. The clinic provides comprehensive services including: dental exams, cleanings, x-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants, fillings and extractions. For services the clinic cannot provide, they refer patients to local dentists.

Patients are seen by appointment only, and the clinic is open at different days and times based upon when volunteer dentists and staff schedule time at the clinic. Last year, about 25 dentists volunteered and KidSMILES was able to have 46 clinic days. The clinic saw 312 patients at 589 appointments, which is the most they have seen in a year since the clinic opened in 2012.

Dr. Timothy Edwards, a founding board member of the clinic, said KidSMILES sees a wide range of patients, and sometimes the dental needs of the children can seem overwhelming. But the dentists will often break up the work into several visits, making the treatment much more manageable.

When possible the patients will be scheduled to see the same dentist, but oftentimes patients see different dentists based on who is scheduled to volunteer, said Laura Zuber, Executive Director of KidSMILES.

Edwards said sometimes when patients have a great experience, they will ask to come back when that particular dentist or hygienist will be there again.

“It’s encouraging to us when they ask for you,” he said.

Edwards said they are trying to create a comfortable environment, and creating a good patient experience is just as important as the care they are providing.

One of the biggest impacts on patients that Edwards said he has seen is an improvement in their self-confidence.

Zuber said one teenaged patient whose front teeth were very decayed from drinking Pepsi wouldn’t make eye contact with people because he was embarrassed about his teeth. When his treatment was completed, he was smiling.

“He’s employable; he has a future now,” Zuber said.

Edwards said the condition of people’s teeth can be a major problem for people trying to get a job, and he enjoys being able to help teenagers overcome this obstacle.

Zuber said another patient had trouble finding care because he didn’t have insurance, so he became a patient at the KidSMILES clinic. He’s now 19 and has kept up with his oral hygiene thanks to the care and education he received as a child at the clinic.

The clinic staffs a dental assistant, clinic manager and executive director all part-time and is planning to add a part-time dentist with a grant from the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation.

Zuber said adding a part-time dentist will allow the clinic to see more patients and to have a more consistent schedule.

“Our ultimate goal is to see more kids, and we have a 1,000 kids per year goal we’d like to hit,” Zuber said.

The clinic is always looking for more volunteers in order to be able to see more kids, and many dentists bring their staff with them to KidSMILES to volunteer, Zuber said.

“It’s a good team building activity,” she said.

Edwards said he often brings several of his staff members with him to volunteer.

“I’m grateful when they want to come volunteer with me,” he said.

Dentists and hygienists can also schedule on their own, and will be paired up with other dentists and hygienists.

Edwards said volunteering at the clinic can feel a little bit like “dental camping” because volunteers are in a different setup at a clinic they’re not used to. But he said it can be good to shake things up and get outside of his comfort zone, plus KidSMILES makes it very easy to volunteer there.

Edwards said the structure of the front office and support staff is extremely helpful, and they will lead volunteers by the hand, and the assistant who works at the clinic can teach offices how to use the equipment. Dentists are also provided with a list of equipment at the clinic and are welcome to bring their own equipment if they prefer, Zuber said. Dentists also are able to visit the clinic or volunteer alongside a veteran volunteer to become more comfortable with the clinic.

In addition to providing care, the organization also presents educational programs at the clinic and to elementary schools, pre-schools, daycare centers and community service organizations. KidSMILES has partnered with the dental and pre-dental programs at The Ohio State University to provide many of the volunteers to facilitate educational outreach.

To learn more about volunteering with KidSMILES as well as other volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.oda.org/get-involved/in-your-community/volunteer-in-your-community/.

Interested in helping organizations like KidSMILES increase access to care?

The ODA Foundation’s grant program relies on the donations of individual ODA members. The Foundation receives a wide variety of grant applications from organizations around the state, and the Foundation’s board of trustees carefully considers all causes and the impact of grant funds. Thanks to the donations of ODA members, grants to organizations like KidSMILES are able to help more children receive needed dental care. Donations to the ODA Foundation can be made when renewing tripartite membership dues, by mailing a check payable to ODA Foundation to 1370 Dublin Rd., Columbus, OH 43215 or online at https://www.oda.org/donate/donate-to-the-oda-foundation/.