July 9, 2011; Source: The Columbian | The NPQ Newswire has covered the impressive efforts of the nonprofit Sarrell Dental Clinic in Alabama to fight off attacks by private dentists (and the Alabama Dental Association establishment) to shut the clinic down (here and here and here). The virulence and viciousness of the dental establishment’s opposition to Sarrell was shocking. 

In the debates around health care, people often forget about the importance of dental care. It shouldn’t be underestimated as a need by lower-income people. The number of people coming to Sarrell constitute an empirical message that should be conveyed to the members of Congress thinking of ways of gutting the nation’s incipient health care reform. 

In east Vancouver, Sarrell has a nonprofit emulating its success. The nonprofit New Day Community Dental Clinic will be offering a range of inexpensive dental services for low income people:  a comprehensive dental exam for $49, a preventative cleaning for $65, dentures for less than $1,000.  In general, the Clinic will be offering services on a sliding scale keyed to income.  “We’re looking for people who aren’t getting care because of the expense,” the clinic’s board chair said. The clinic fills a gap between free services for very low income people, for example, the emergency care offered by the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, and service from private dentists for people with the ability to pay out-of-pocket or charge to dental insurance. 

New Day got a $300,000 grant and a $100,000 loan from the Washington Dental Service Foundation to lease and refurbish a site. Currently operating three days a week, the clinic has 800 patients, but the board hopes that the number of patients will increase to support a five-day-a-week operation. Additional services are in the planning stage, such as sending dental technicians to senior care communities and the development of a program for people “whose dental needs are a barrier to employability.” 

The executive director, Shelley Guinn, said that it was “very humbling, really, to just see how much people appreciate that we’re here.”  We hope that Washington’s private dentist establishment doesn’t try to emulate their business peers in Alabama who waged a multi-year and ultimately unsuccessful effort to put Sarrell out of business.—Rick Cohen