Dental clinic finds its target patients

New Day treats those who put off work because of cost

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

New Day Community Dental Clinic

Where: 1201 S.E. Tech Center Drive, Suite 150, in Vancouver.

When: Patient appointments Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Contact: 360-892-7107, http://newdaydental.org.

A new clinic is making costly dental procedures, out of reach for many cash-strapped families, a little more affordable.

A comprehensive exam is only $49. An adult preventative cleaning can cost as little as $65, a service that’s more than $100 at other dental offices. And dentures, which can cost thousands of dollars elsewhere, can be built for less than $1,000.

The nonprofit New Day Community Dental Clinic opened its doors in east Vancouver this year. The clinic offers a range of dental services and charges patients on a sliding scale, depending on their income.

New Day accepts patients of all income levels, with or without dental insurance. Patients range from working professionals whose employers don’t offer insurance to elderly people with limited incomes.

What the patients have in common is difficulty in affording market-rate dental care and, as a result, they have avoided getting dental care, said Sharif Burdzik, president of the clinic’s board of directors.

“We’re looking for people who aren’t getting care because of the expense,” he said.

Seeing the need

Planning for the new dental clinic began several years ago, Burdzik said.

Local dentists, Clark County Public Health officials and educators at Clark College’s dental hygiene program realized there was a gap in care. The Free Clinic of Southwest Washington provides emergency care for low-income people. Private dentists care for those who pay out-of-pocket or have insurance. But those who fall somewhere in the middle had few options, Burdzik said.

“Medical care gets a lot of attention. Care for children gets a lot of attention. But once you grow out of childhood, there’s not a lot of help for dental care,” he said.

The group secured a $300,000 grant and a $100,000 loan from the Washington Dental Service Foundation. The money was used to lease the former Willamette Dental site and furnish the clinic, Burdzik said.

The money patients pay for services cover the costs of operating the clinic — about $2,600 daily. No taxpayer dollars were used to open or operate the clinic, Burdzik said.

The clinic has three dental operatories — a fourth is in the works — an X-ray room, a denturist lab and offices. The building also includes two private rooms that could be equipped for pediatric dental care in the future, Burdzik said.

New Day is currently open three days a week, up from two days when it first opened, and has about 800 patients, said Shelley Guinn, the clinic’s executive director. By the end of the year, officials hope to have enough patients to operate the clinic five days a week. A grand-opening celebration will take place in September.

The goal of the clinic, Guinn said, is to provide people with a “dental home” where they can receive preventative care and maintain their dental health over time.

“We want to be here to provide complete care rather than just emergent or urgent care,” Guinn said.

New Day officials are also working to provide additional services to the community.

A mobile program to take denturists to senior care communities for consultations is in the works, as is a grant-funded program to help people whose dental needs are a barrier to employability, Guinn said.

So far, Guinn said patients have expressed nothing but gratitude for the clinic, its employees and the services it provides.

“It’s been very rewarding,” she said, “and very humbling, really, to just see how much people appreciate that we’re here.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.