Smile Power Week Highlights Tennessee Oral Health Safety Net
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – (June 16, 2021) – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, along with the Tennessee Charitable Care Network (TCCN), an association of more than 50 safety net health care clinics including 19 dental clinics, has declared June 14-18, 2021, the 6th Annual Smile Power Oral Health Week. Smile Power Week highlights the transformational care these clinics provide in communities across Tennessee, from fillings and emergency tooth extractions to restorative dental care through the state’s safety net denture program. In 2020, Tennessee's safety net dental clinics served more than 39,850 patients who may otherwise not have received care.
One of those patients was Samantha, a Murfreesboro-based single mom of three, who credits Interfaith Dental Clinic with saving her life. Four years ago, she was missing almost all her teeth and had significant pain and swelling in her face that made it difficult to eat or work; she eventually ended up in the ER, requiring emergency surgery, before a friend helped connect her to the clinic.
“I was close to losing my life over my teeth,” said Samantha. “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.”
Interfaith restored her smile, and her confidence. Today, Samantha is a thriving full-time student and mom, and continues to work as waitress, where she has gone from hiding her mouth with her server notepad when she talked to customers (and welcoming the chance to wear a mask when the pandemic hit), to eager to show off her new smile and engage with customers.
Samantha’s story is inspiring, and just one of many – the denture program has helped 4,700 Tennesseans like Samantha restore their smiles, confidence, and entire outlook on life since it launched in late 2016.
But it almost came to an end this year when state funding for the denture program was cut during the pandemic. The highly unusual, emergency circumstances of the pandemic actually ended up contributing to its survival in the meantime, however, as surplus funding from the previous fiscal year, when dental offices unexpectedly closed for a while 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 stepped in to cover the remaining gap in funding, 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.”
To wrap up Smile Power Week, Delta Dental of Tennessee will host a Facebook Live conversation with Dr. Wenk on Friday, June 18 at 11 AM central to discuss the safety net oral health care resources, including the denture program, that are available to Tennesseans, and the importance of preventive care. Follow Delta Dental on Facebook to receive additional updates about the event.
More than one-third of adults (36%) 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%). To help protect patients and staff, most dental offices have implemented strict safety protocols. And they are working; a recent report found that dentists had a lower COVID-19 infection rate (2.6%) than other health professionals, including nurses and physicians.
For more information about accessing free and low-cost dental resources across Tennessee, please visit the Smile180 Foundation’s Resource Guide at https://tennessee.deltadental.com/en/smile180.html.
Delta Dental of Tennessee
Delta Dental of Tennessee is the state’s largest independent dental benefits carrier with more than 1.2 million lives covered. As part of the Delta Dental Plans Association, Delta Dental of Tennessee members have access to the largest dental network in the nation with more than 154,000 providers serving more than 332,000 locations. With the simple mission of ensuring healthy smiles, Delta Dental of Tennessee works hard to help members of the communities it serves. Along with its corporate foundation, Smile180, Delta Dental of Tennessee donated more than $7 million in funding and in-kind services to over 140 organizations in 2019, and employees shared 2,182 volunteer hours in the community.
The Tennessee Charitable Care Network
The Tennessee Charitable Care Network (TCCN) has a mission to provide support, education, and representation for non-profit organizations that provide charitable health care services to low-income, uninsured, and underserved Tennesseans. Established in 2014, TCCN ensures that Tennessee’s charitable clinics are equipped to effectively respond to the health care needs of vulnerable populations now and into the future. Faced with common challenges, such as the changing healthcare landscape, limited financial resources, reliance on volunteers versus full-time staff, and a lack of training resources, key leaders within the state’s charitable clinics identified the need for a statewide membership association. TCCN was initiated by these leaders to provide a collective voice for charitable clinics, along with the resources and expertise needed to tackle shared challenges in an effective and efficient way. The leadership and collaboration provided by TCCN ensure that charitable clinics can successfully meet patient needs while navigating the changing environment, improving systems and quality, and developing services tailored to the unique needs and assets of each community.