In the Community

Say Cheese: Giving Healthy Smiles to Those in Need

The Donated Dental Services program has helped thousands of Virginians with oral care since 1997.

Robin Worrie has been craving crunchy tacos and fried chicken for ages. The 63-year-old Portsmouth woman hasn’t been able to indulge in such greasy goodness for years because her damaged teeth following stage 4 colon cancer and harsh medical treatments – prevented Worrie from eating many foods.

She’d had cancer surgery and received experimental, aggressive drugs. “Everything that touched my teeth felt like metal,” Worrie said. “Even eating a cracker, they would chip off.” The cancer treatments caused nerve damage and altered her smile.

The Donated Dental Services program, part of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, came to her rescue.

The program assisted 227 people like Worrie around Virginia in 2021, and the group expects to help a similar number this year. The organization targets seniors with low incomes, adults who are permanently disabled, and people who are medically fragile.

Because of those successes, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation donated $7,500 to the organization to hire a case manager for the region.

Donated Dental has helped thousands of Virginians with oral care since 1997. The free, comprehensive aid makes its work unique, said Tara Quinn, executive director of the dental foundation. The value of Donated Dental’s aid per patient was more than $4,100 last year.

Keeping your mouth, teeth and gums free of problems is important.

“This meets a need that’s far beyond what a patient could access in safety-net dental clinics,” Quinn said. Many applicants have major, long-neglected oral health conditions, often linked to lacking dental insurance or being unable to afford regular treatment. They also might suffer from diseases like cancer, forcing delays in treatment.

Local dentists, hygienists, and other oral care specialists provide their services for free in their own offices. Donated Dental also partners with laboratories to fabricate oral appliances. The value of those services over the past quarter-century? A whopping $16.6 million.

Patients pay nothing: “In many cases, they don’t have insurance or the financial resources to access care,” Quinn said.

Worrie, now cancer free, has been treated by Dr. Lawrence Leibowitz in Virginia Beach. He extracted her remaining teeth, many of which no longer functioned.

She had impressions taken, and she’ll soon have new dentures. Besides the crunchy food, Worrie looks forward to something more basic: “I was blessed with a million-dollar smile, and I missed it.”

She has nothing but praise for the people at Donated Dental Services. “It’s a godsend,” Worrie said. “There’s so many out there that need this help.”

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