Wall of Wine Benefits DC’s Underserved Patients

Richard Gawel


Vino enthusiasts had the opportunity to win some prestigious beverages with the District of Columbia Dental Society (DCDS) Foundation’s Wall of Wine during ADA 2015 in Washington, DC. With more than 1,500 selections available, attendees could donate $25 and randomly select a bottle. Prizes ranged in value up to the top choice, an $800 Grand Cru Red Burgundy Pinot Noir. And it was all for a good cause.

“The whole thrust of the Foundation is philanthropic oral health care. We give money to the Spanish Catholic Center to treat underserved people, and our members actually volunteer to do the treatment as well. They’re on a sliding scale for no payment or some payment,” said Dr. Alan Singer, treasurer of the organization.

The DCDS Foundation conducts dental clinics with the Spanish Catholic Center. Procedures include cleanings, extractions, restorations, root canals, and dentures. Clinics held throughout the year serve as many as 2,000 patients. Treatments are conducted both at the Spanish Catholic Center and at the offices of participating volunteer dentists.

During Give Kids a Smile Day, another outreach program, the DCDS Foundation teams up with the faculty and students of the Howard University College of Dentistry to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of treatment using thousands of dollars more worth of supplies to students of underserved schools in the DC metro area.

If it weren’t for these programs, many of these patients wouldn’t see a dentist at all. For example, one boy at the last Give Kids a Smile Day had missed 5 weeks of school because of 5 decayed teeth. The school had even called DC’s social services out of concern because, for unknown reasons, the boy’s mother would not take him to the dentist herself.

“They had Medicaid and they could have gone to the dentist,” said Dr. Singer. “She just either didn’t know where to go or just did not bring the child in.”

Insurance issues, transportation issues, immigration status, and the inability to take time off of work all play a role in preventing parents from taking their children to see a dentist regularly. But when these issues are resolved, though, the Foundation still faces hurdles in getting parents to participate.

“Even with Give Kids a Smile Day, we’re lucky if we get 50% of the parents at a school to give permission for the kids to get free treatment. It’s an issue even when we’re giving free transportation. We can’t get them to sign the consent form,” said Dr. Singer. “We’ve even informed people that we don’t care if you’re illegal immigrants, we’ll still give you free treatment.”

Yet the patients who do attend these events and receive treatment are very pleased and thankful, said Dr. Singer. Some patients hesitate and ask if they will be seeing a dentist or a dental student before signing up. The Foundation ensures that dentists supervise all dental students, though, just like in dental school.

Also, some patients may need more work than the event can accommodate. The Foundation then arranges to have those patients follow up with the attending dentists at their offices, where the rest of the work is finished for free. A few patients might not keep these appointments, but the work to recruit and keep them is worth it.

“It’s needed,” said Amber Wright, an associate with the DC Dental Society. “We have had a lot of positive feedback, and once people come, they come back every year. They reach out to us. They look forward to the next time. They’re always wondering when we’ll be doing it again.”

The Foundation can’t conduct these events, though, without partners like TD Bank, Care Credit, and Henry Schein. It also values the hard work of its volunteers, which are especially needed. The DC Dental Society is small, compared to the larger state societies nationwide. Also, students and faculty of nearby schools have their own limitations in what they’re certified to do and how much time they have to volunteer.

Dentists, hygienists, students, and others are invited to volunteer for these clinics and Give Kids a Smile Day, as well as for January’s NBC 4 Fitness and Health Expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Meanwhile, fundraisers such as the Wall of Wine—expected to do well for the Foundation—also will provide needed support.

“I love it,” said Wright. “I can see what’s happening and how many people are benefitting from it. It only gets better every day, seeing tangible results and how we’re actually affecting them with what we’re doing.”

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