December 20, 2017

Volunteers Earn “Free” Low Cost Dental Care

In Michigan, program participants received low cost dental care in exchange for volunteer time.

In Michigan, program participants received low cost dental care in exchange for volunteer time.

Low cost dental care has never been easy to find. A 2014-‘15 program in Michigan let people trade volunteer work for dental work. A study published this year shows how that worked out.

The Pay It Forward program was a partnership between a nonprofit and the Central District Dental Society of Michigan. It was open to low-income residents in Ingham County and surrounding areas. Adults who took part in the program earned $25 in dental services for each hour of volunteer work.

Low Cost Dental Care in Exchange for Helping a Nonprofit

The non-profit group, Pay It Forward, worked with low-income adults who did not qualify for Medicaid. At the start of the program, 70% were in pain. A third felt their oral health kept limited their food choices. Thirty-eight percent reported discomfort, worry and concern, and 40% said they were not comfortable eating in front of other people.

For the program, the patients took an hour-long oral health class and donated four hours to a nonprofit. There were 80 nonprofits from which to choose. The first four hours covered the cost of low cost dental care. This included an initial exam, x-rays and a cleaning.

Read More: Why you need dental insurance.

Next, the dentists in the program made a plan for needed work. They based costs for the work on Medicaid schedule fees. Then, they told volunteers how many hours they would need to work to cover their services. After volunteers clocked their hours, the dentists did their work.

Survey: Most Felt Their Oral Health Had Improved

Patients worked an average of 33 hours to earn their dental work. They received over $1,150 in low cost dental care, which brought total savings to $43,815. Of course, the need for services varied widely. Actual numbers ranged from $195 to $5,056.

Most of the residents and dentists who participated in the Pay It Forward program said they liked it. In addition, most of the patients said their oral health had improved.

Thirty-eight people took part in the program. Twenty-seven took part in a follow-up survey. Of those, about 4 out of 5 (80%) said they liked the program and would recommend it. Nearly half (12%) said volunteering was “tough to juggle with family and work.”

Read next: Dental Inequality in America

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