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community health fund


Dentists on Wheels Pittsbirg Free Dental Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul

free dental clinic

Research has demonstrated that oral health is an important, but often neglected component of overall health. Poor oral health may contribute to various diseases and conditions, including endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy and birth complications and pneumonia. Conversely, some chronic diseases, including diabetes, can have a negative impact on oral health, with its accompanying pain and quality-of-life impacts. Unfortunately, many vulnerable, underserved and uninsured individuals struggle to regularly access dental care of any kind.

That’s why in 2019, John Muir Community Health Fund (CHF) met with a leadership team from Dentist on Wheels (DOW) – an emerging 501 (c)(3). The group described its vision for establishing a free dental clinic aimed at serving uninsured, low-income adults in Contra Costa County. At the time, CHF staff connected DOW with local Denti-Cal providers and nonprofit partner organizations to help DOW learn more about the local landscape and access best practice advice. La Clínica de La Raza, CoCoCo Dental Collaborative, Ronald McDonald Dental Collaborative, Community Clinic Consortium, Operation AccessBrighter Beginnings and St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa all met with DOW.

In early 2020, DOW received its 501 (c)(3) status and the CHF, in collaboration with JMH Community Health Improvement and the Optum Pro-Bono grant program, awarded DOW a grant to work with consultants to develop a strategic plan for a volunteer-driven clinic. By the end of the year, DOW had entered into a formal partnership to establish the Dentists on Wheels Free Dental Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul in Pittsburg (SVdP). SVdP would fund construction of a dental facility, grant DOW clinic space of approximately 400 square feet and provide all utilities. In turn, DOW agreed to provide all dental equipment and obtain all necessary licenses required for operations.

In early 2021, DOW and SVdP piloted the program and garnered philanthropic support for the start-up, including a $20,000 grant from JMH Community Health Improvement. During this period ongoing discussions continued with the CHF and in March 2021, the CHF awarded DOW a $30,000 grant, which DOW used to contract with La Piana Consulting to develop an operational guide to ensure program continuation and a plan for how the SVdP site’s DOW program might add days, evenings, or weekends. In 2022, with help from the CHF, which provided $37,000 to DOW and $19,890 to SVdP, the clinic hired a Dental Operations manager and continued to provide transportation support for patients requiring pro-bono care beyond the clinic’s scope. SVdP continued to actively recruit a part-time SVdP Receptionist/Referral Specialist

In addition, the partners report:

  • The clinic is now operating two days a week, one day for general dentistry and the other for specialty care.
  • The Operations Manager and the Dental Director use Google Sheets to track schedules, share information and assess patient’s needs.  
  • A HEDCO Foundation grant enabled DOW to purchase extra x-ray machines. 

For 2023, the CHF awarded the partnership $35,000 for a Phase II implementation aimed at strengthening the organization’s capacity to treat more patients by establishing a part-time dental evaluator position and provide meals to the dental volunteers.  Key responsibilities and expected outcomes include:

  • Hiring a part-time DOW Dental Evaluator who will be charged with:
    • Assessing the dental treatment needs of patients
    • Scheduling and referring patients
    • Following up with patients that require further treatments
  • Provision of meals will improve clinic volunteer morale and the number of patients served      

In addition, the partners have garnered and are pursuing more private foundation support and individual donors to support clinic operations.