Program provides needed dental care for handicapped

  Dion Harrison always had a lot of infections in his teeth.

He also has some other health problems that keep him in a wheelchair.

A couple of years ago, Harrison, 49, said he had a year where he would get a tooth infection nearly every month and have it treated with antibiotics, over and over. His mouth was hurting; he could barely chew his food because of the pain. Unemployed at the time, he’d tried unsuccessfully to find a dentist.

When Frederick dentist Harvey Levy finally saw him about two years ago as part of the Maryland Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped’s Donated Dental Services Program, Levy said Harrison’s teeth were cracked and puss-filled. The program provides free dental care to people with disabilities or other impairments who can’t afford treatment and are not covered by other assistance programs like Medicaid or Medicare.

As a member of the foundation, Levy has been taking two pro bono cases under the Donated Dental Services Program since its inception in the late 1980s.

He said while he could offer services to anyone he likes, he prefers the most challenging cases of people that typically have handicaps and may be in wheelchairs. His office is equipped to serve people in wheelchairs.

“We couldn’t save anything,” Levy said of Harrison’s teeth.

Harrison had to go to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where Levy removed all of his teeth in an operation, part of which was funded by the hospital, Levy said.

Levy then made and fit dentures for Harrison. In all, the dental work would have cost Harrison about $12,500, Levy said.

“There’s no pain anymore,” Harrison said. “I can eat better.”

Donated Dental Service Program executive director Lilian Marsh said the statewide program recruits and tries to match volunteer dentists with people suffering from physical or mental disabilities, including people who have cancer, diabetes, are awaiting organ transplantation or are veterans.

“It’s a privilege to work in a job where we can touch people’s lives the way we do,” she said.

The program staff try to match dentists with patients in their home towns and then monitors their progress if they need further treatment or to see an oral surgeon. If the patients can’t afford to pay laboratory costs, the program will cover it.

Last year, the program provided about $1.17 million in dental care in Maryland. About 350 patients completed care last year and 596 others were still receiving treatment, Marsh said. About 40 people in the Frederick area completed treatment last year.

The average patient in the program receives over $2,000 in free care, she said. About 25 dentists in Frederick County volunteer for the program and Marsh said she’s always on the lookout for new volunteers.

Roughly 800 people in Maryland are waiting for such care, Marsh said.

“We can use more volunteers,” she said.

 

Source: Frederick News Post

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