The new Utah Coalition for Homeless Health Care has issued an appeal to area dental professionals and the public to help provide dental care to Utah's homeless population.
The coalition is asking the public to donate $25,000 for equipment and to pay a part-time dental assistant at the St. Vincent's De Paul Clinic, 437 W. Second South, said Jeff Fox, coalition member and director of Crossroads Urban Center.During a press conference Monday at St. Vincent's, speakers said the coalition will also ask Gov. Norm Bangerter to put the need to restore Medicaid's adult dental program, which was eliminated because of budget cuts, on the agenda for the special legislative session. The program, which would cost the state about $600,000, would be matched by $1.5 million in federal money, and is expected to benefit 7,700 low-income people.
Dental problems are a major self-sufficiency barrier. The No. 1 request at the center is for employment opportunities. But bad teeth create a limitation that can be cosmetic or medical. People who don't have teeth - or who have rotten teeth - don't usually make a good impression in a job interview. "In the clinic, we see once-minor problems that have progressed to major abscesses and in some cases become life-threatening," said Carrie Ryan, registered nurse at St. Vincent's. "We need to develop a network with dental services and provide preventive care so these people can be self-sufficient."
There is crucial need for volunteer dental personnel and help with equipment, organizational skills or time, Dr. Laine Fluckiger said. Fluckiger, a dentist, and two oral surgeons currently provide assistance to 20-30 people a month - all they can manage during a clinic from 1-3 p.m. Wednesdays. "I want to dispel the fear some health professionals might have," he said. "Because of limited equipment and supplies, we mainly extract teeth and give advice. Our equipment is sometimes primitive - we don't even have an X-ray machine - but when it comes to aseptic technique, we are right up to snuff."
St. Vincent's De Paul is committed to maintaining a dental clinic, Claudette Reeves, executive director, said. The center donates clinic space, and has pledged to continue to support the project through help with administrative assistance.
Anyone interested in donating time, money or equipment to the clinic should call Reeves, 534-1500.