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Stark Foundation's $500,000 Grant to Fund UT Dental Van
Underprivileged children and adults in deep East Texas, where dentists who accept Medicaid are scarce, will have increased access to dental care thanks to a $500,000 grant over five years from the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation to The University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston.
The money will help fund the UT Mobile Dental Van, a full-service dental clinic on wheels, when it travels to the East Texas town of Jasper to serve clients of the East Texas Health Access Network (ETHAN), a collaborative network that helps the poor in a five county area get access to medical care, prescription medicine, eyeglasses and a food pantry, in addition to dental care.
The grant is the Stark Foundation's first donation to the UT Dental Branch (UTDB), and while the money is targeted for van operations, its ultimate effect could be life-changing for the people who come to the van for help.
In addition to being embarrassing, bad teeth perpetuate the cycle of poverty, according to UTDB Development Director John Greer. "If your teeth are so bad that you can't smile, you won't do well in job interviews and you may not even be considered for jobs you could otherwise get," he said. "Lack of dental care creates a barrier for families who need to advance economically to provide a better opportunity for their children, and so on."
Poor dental health can adversely affect nutrition, particularly in children, and is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism. Bad teeth and gum disease have been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other illnesses. And yet, dental care is often out of reach for many.
Peggy O'Neill, Ph.D., D.D.S., associate dean for patient care at the Dental Branch, said the Stark Foundation's grant for dental van operations also will serve an educational purpose for the dental and dental hygiene students on board.
"It gives our students experience in community dentistry," she said. "And we're hoping that by taking our students to these places where the need for dentists is so great, they may want to practice there."
In fiscal year 2007, the UT Dental Van performed more than 1,500 procedures at ETHAN sites in Jasper, Woodville, San Augustine and Hemphill. Working under the supervision of the van's dental director, Tracey Godwin, D.D.S., students from UT provided about 80 percent of the care. The value of that care would have been just under $200,000 if the fees were charged at usual and customary rates.
The Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation is a private foundation established in 1961 to encourage and assist education and to improve and enrich the quality of life in Southeast Texas. This is partly accomplished through foundation grants to organizations that seek to improve local health care and organizations with a focus on local community and social needs. Preference is generally given to those programs that directly impact Orange County. As in this grant, the foundation occasionally will fund a grant to an organization serving a special need in other Southeast Texas counties.
By Rhonda Moran, Dental Branch
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