Tennessee Celebrates Smile Power Oral Health Week

Dentistry Today

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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Charitable Care Network (TCCN), which comprises more than 50 safety net healthcare clinics including 19 dental clinics, has declared June 14 through June 18 the sixth annual Smile Power Oral Health Week.

The event highlights the transformational care that these clinics provide, from fillings and emergency tooth extractions to restorative dental care through the state’s safety net denture program, the TCCN said. In 2020, its dental clinics served more than 39,850 patients who otherwise may not have received care.

Samantha, a single mother of three living in the Murfreesboro area, credits the Interfaith Dental Clinic with saving her life. Four years ago, she was missing almost all of her teeth and had significant pain and swelling in her face that made it difficult to eat or work.

Eventually, Samantha had to go the emergency room and get emergency surgery before a friend helped connect her to the clinic.

“I was close to losing my life over my teeth,” Samantha said. “Then I got a phone call, and Interfaith said ‘We hear you need an appointment. We hear you’re in pain.’ And I cried, because for once in my life something was going right, something good was happening to me, and I needed it.”

Now, Samantha is a full-time student and mother. She also continues to work as a waitress, where she has gone from hiding her mouth with her notepad when she talked to customers and welcoming the chance to wear a mask when the pandemic started to being eager to show off her new smile and engage with customers.

Samantha is one of 4,700 state residents who have been helped by the denture program, restoring their smiles, confidence, and outlook on life since it launched in late 2016, the TCCN said.

The program almost came to an end, however, when its state funding was cut during the pandemic. However, surplus funding from the previous fiscal year generated when dental offices closed for the pandemic and patients were slow to return covered a portion of the funding for this year.

Delta Dental of Tennessee, a longtime supporter of TCCN and its member clinics, administers the safety net denture program at no cost to the state and covered the remaining gap in funding, which totaled more than $220,000 at the end of May 2021. State funding for the program was fully restored in this year’s budget.

“We are so appreciative of Governor Lee and the Legislature’s continued support for the denture program,” said Dr. Phil Wenk, CEO and president of Delta Dental of Tennessee.

“This program is really about changing lives, and with funding back in the budget for next year, more hardworking Tennesseans like Samantha will be able to experience the transformative power of a smile,” Wenk said.

As part of the celebration, Delta Dental of Tennessee will host a Facebook Live conversation with Wenk on Friday, June 18 at 11 AM central to discuss safety net oral healthcare resources, including the denture program, available to state residents and the importance of preventive care.

The TCCN notes that 36% of adults skipped or delayed healthcare because of the pandemic, according to the Urban Institute, which also found that dental care was the most commonly skipped service (25%). Also, the TCCN said, dentists had a lower COVID-19 infection rate (2.6%) than other health professionals, including nurses and physicians.

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