Despite historic increases in health insurance coverage in Massachusetts, fewer than 20 percent of the commonwealth’s dentists accept patients insured through public programs such as Medicaid. Although state-subsidized insurance programs include dental care, the insurance mandate does not require employers to cover dental care. Dental schools are considered affordable sites for treatment, but even reduced fees are beyond the budgets of many families today.
For the fourth year, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) took a step toward improving access by enlisting dozens of student volunteers in “Give Kids a Smile,” a nationwide program providing free preventive dental care to children. HSDM may be the smallest Harvard graduate school, but nearly half of the predoctoral student body contributed to the expansion and improvement of this year’s program. Student volunteers ranged from first-year to residency, and even included a Kennedy School student.
Wide-reaching, multilingual outreach efforts resulted in a doubling of patients from last year’s total. Families came from as far as Rhode Island for care. For the first time, adolescents were invited to attend and received age-appropriate oral health education and dentistry career counseling, in addition to clinical services. More than a half-dozen languages were spoken between patients and volunteers, from registration to clinical services.
“I lost my job and could not afford the state insurance; this was an excellent opportunity for the both of us,” explained one mother. “I am very grateful for the time and that the students shared with the community last Saturday. I will tell and encourage others to take part next year.”