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It’s been more than 20 years since Elgin dentist Frank Maggio first volunteered to treat patients with special needs, patients who are medically compromised, and elderly patients in his office at no cost. He’s proud to say that his devotion to the Dental Lifeline Network — Illinois (formerly the Illinois Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped) hasn’t wavered.
“It is the easiest way, and the best structured way, to serve people in need. It’s a way to give back and a way to better understand our society,” said Dr. Maggio, now vice chairman of the national Board of Directors. “This is a long-term commitment to giving patients a dental home.”
This national organization runs two programs in Illinois: Donated Dental Services (DDS), which pairs volunteer dentists with disabled, elderly or medically-compromised patients who can not afford treatment; and the Dental HouseCalls program, which sends dentists and a van full of mobile equipment on the road to care for residents of nursing homes and other homebound people. In both programs, care is free or very deeply discounted.
Dental Lifeline Network reports that for every $1 spent, $15 of care is generated. The organization reported in 2011 that it had 15,000 volunteer dentists and 3,200 volunteer labs nationwide, which have provided $200 million in dental care to 106,000 patients over the past 25 years. In Illinois alone, 341 patients received more than $950,000 in donated dental care last year.
In Dr. Maggio’s office, this care has been delivered to patients with physical and mental disabilities, but also patients who are waiting for organ transplants. These patients will not receive a new organ until they receive dental care and clear the source of infection from their mouths.
“There is a great need for care, but dental care isn’t covered in their insurance, so we get a lot of referrals from hospitals,” Dr. Maggio said. “The staff routinely takes great pleasure and pride in helping patients in every way we can.”
The program’s dental coordinator prior to any referral to his office screens Dr. Maggio’s DDS patients. The coordinator confirms their eligibility for the program and also the current state of their oral health.
“In Illinois, there are thousands on the waiting list to receive services. The dental coordinator goes to the database and looks for a volunteer close by, because often the patients are relying on public transportation,” Dr. Maggio said.
“The dentist gets a report on the patient’s dental needs, but also their disability. If you feel that something about the patient is beyond what you’re capable of handling, you can pass,” Dr. Maggio said.
“Maybe your office doesn’t have an elevator for a patient in a wheelchair or you’re not used to working with kids with autism. You get one patient at a time, and you work within the normal scope of your practice,” said Dr. Maggio, a periodontist. “A patient who comes in to my practice through the DDS program is handled like every other patient — part of the day-in day-out flow.”
While his care is free, Dr. Maggio’s DDS patients find ways to thank him and the staff.
“Those who are religious pray for us, others bring us baked goods, books and DVDs. They are extremely appreciative and very attune to the significance of their participation in the program. They’re so happy to be coming in, and it makes our day more pleasant,” he said.
Like many charitable organizations, Dental Lifeline Network has struggled recently to raise funds. It had long received funding from the State of Illinois, through the Health Department, but like many other state-funded programs the grant was reduced in this time of financial crisis.
“We’ve really been struggling since then. It slowed the pace at which we clear patients for treatment,” said president Fred Leviton. “In addition, many other grant-makers like to seed projects but don’t like to support projects forever — they like to get more projects going.”
Dental Lifeline Network – Illinois received a $5,000 grant from the Chicago Dental Society Foundation in 2011 to support its local Dental HouseCalls program. The grant enabled them to purchase a new van, which will be used to take mobile dental equipment to homebound patients and others throughout the tri-county area.
“The old van just fell apart,” Mr. Leviton said, visiting from Colorado in November to dedicate the van. “It had 150,000 miles on it and was 10 years old. But this new van will see about 1,000 patients and travel 12,000 miles over the next year.”
Learn more at DentalLifeline.org.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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