Dental Care: Options for Seniors with Limited Incomes

Courtesy of Mercy Health Muskegon

Part 4 in a series by Mercy Health: Innovations in Health Care

One of the frustrations related to today’s health care is its rising cost, including that of dental care. Unfortunately, for most people, when it comes to setting health priorities and juggling budgets, dental care can fall to the bottom of the list. According to the CDC’s statistics for 2014, only 62 percent of adults aged 65 and older visited the dentist that year.

Q: For whatever the reason — inability to pay or fear of the dentist — is it okay to delay taking care of your oral health?

A: There is plenty of evidence that oral health and general health are strongly related, but let’s look at what one authority has to say about this topic.

According to the Mayo Clinic, tooth decay and gum disease (poor general oral health) may contribute to the following conditions:

  • Endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Premature birth and low birth weight

On the flip side, the following diseases may affect a person’s oral health:

  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Q: When it comes to getting professional dental care, are there local options for people with limited incomes?

A: The good news is, that if you live in Muskegon or Oceana County, you may qualify for an innovative program that offers free dental care: Volunteer For Dental Care.

Opened to public in 2014, Volunteer for Dental Care offers free basic dental services — to those who qualify — by doing volunteer work in the community. The more volunteering you do, the more services you may receive.

For example, in exchange for 4 hours of volunteering, you might receive dental X rays, a check- up and a treatment plan. Many people who are retired or on disability rely on Volunteer for Dental Care to help them afford dental care.

Q: How do you know if you qualify?

A: To be eligible you must:

  • Reside in Muskegon County or Oceana County.
  • Have no dental insurance and not be on Medicaid, although you can be on Medicare.
  • Meet the following income limits:
    Household SizeHousehold Income

Q: What do qualified participants have to do to get free services?

A: Follow these three easy steps:

  1. Attend one dental health class.
  2. Complete your volunteer hours.
  3. Receive your dental care.

The educational component of the program involves a two-hour class held in two locations: the Access Health Building and Bethany Church in Muskegon. Participants learn about oral health from presenters who talk about evidence-based dentistry. Free oral health supplies are also distributed at the class.

Volunteers may choose to work at any of 20 local non-profit organizations. Volunteer hours are logged for tracking purposes. Participants may complete steps 1 and 2 above in which ever order is best for them.

Q: What are the qualifications of the people providing the dental care?

A: All dental care is provided by general dentists, oral surgeons and endodontists who donate their services as a way to give back to the community. These local professionals perform a variety of services, including exams, X-rays, fillings, tooth removal, cleanings and treatment for gum disease right in their own offices.

Q: Who has benefitted from this service?

A: Each year we help create dental pathways for approximately 350 callers, provide oral health education classes for 145 program participants, and provide dental care to an average of 100 patients.

The Volunteers for Dental Care Program has received community benefit initiative grants from the Health Project, a ministry of Mercy Health, to help continue to support the community in access to dental care and preventative dental health.