For the past two years, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation has presented a nonprofit organization with the $100,000 Wisdom Tooth Award. This award is given to an organization that demonstrates a strong commitment and dedication to improving the oral health of Illinois children with a proven program that increases access to care and/or provides oral health education.
2014 Wisdom Tooth Award recipient St. Bernard Hospital Dental Center, located on the South Side of Chicago, provides dental care to underserved communities in Illinois. The Wisdom Tooth Award made it possible to purchase essential dental supplies and bring another dentist onboard to focus on children with special needs. Funding from organizations like the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation is vital to St. Bernard’s basic operation and the fulfillment of its mission to offer comprehensive care to the communities it serves.
We recently spoke with Charles Holland, St. Bernard’s president and chief executive officer, and Dr. Vipul Singhal, DMD, St. Bernard’s director of clinic services, about St. Bernard’s Dental Center and Continuing Education Special Needs Program. The oral health program began in 2007 with the goal of addressing the need for oral health care services in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.
“We had been operating a pediatric mobile unit in the community,” said Holland. “In serving the needs of those children by providing physicals and immunizations in the schools around the area, we discovered a real disturbing lack of oral health care among the kids. We decided to start an oral health care program here. Then I [recruited] Dr. Singhal to help develop that vision and to implement the program.”
St. Bernard’s Dental Center began with a focus on providing care to children. As the Dental Center began reaching more children, the need for oral health care among the children’s parents became apparent, which prompted the Dental Center to begin treating adult patients.
As a result of having direct access to the hospital’s facilities, the Dental Center was able to begin using an operating room, along with general anesthesia. With the addition of an operating room (OR), the Dental Center was able to treat patients with special needs. Some patients with special needs may require the use of general anesthesia to receive dental treatment due to anxiety or a complex dental issue. Procedures requiring general anesthesia are performed in the OR, making it an essential part of St. Bernard’s dental treatment services.
”We are one of the few dental centers in the nation to have an OR available at a moment’s notice,” said Dr. Singhal. “Most dental clinics only have access to an OR one day a week. Our ability to access the OR at any time allows us to provide oral health care to patients with special needs, as well as patients who are in the hospital for other conditions.”
Once the Dental Center had the facilities to be able to treat children and adults with special needs, Holland and Singhal realized that many dentists in the community lacked the training and skills needed to treat special needs patients. Dr. Singhal’s long-term goal for St. Bernard’s oral health program is not only to address the need for oral health care in the community, but to also develop a continuing education program for dentists to treat special needs patients.
“Dr. Singhal has done a great job in starting in a very focused way, then branching out to address some of the other needs we have seen,” said Holland. “One of the hallmarks of our program here is that we have been able to address needs in a very methodical, step-by-step way, and we’re looking forward to expanding further.”
When you speak with Dr. Singhal about St. Bernard’s oral health program, his passion and dedication to providing quality dental care to the underserved is evident. “This is my life,” said Dr. Singhal. “It’s not just a job I come to every day. This is exactly what I wanted to do. I receive satisfaction and fulfillment in what I do here.”
When we asked Dr. Singhal to describe an instance where the oral health program had a significant impact on someone, he said “How many stories do you want?” One of the stories Dr. Singhal shared was about a mother and her teenage son from a small southern Illinois town. Due to extreme decay and dental pain, the teenager had to have his teeth pulled and would need dentures. Dr. Singhal still recalls the look on the mother’s face as she said, “Dr. Singhal, my son is in high school, and if goes back to school with no teeth, he will lose his personality… Can you do something?” Dr. Singhal created dentures for her son, restoring his smile and confidence.
This is just one story. There are countless others. They all demonstrate the great need for oral health care and education in Illinois, as well as St. Bernard’s and Dr. Singhal’s continued commitment to providing quality dental care to those in need. Since it began operations in 2007, the St. Bernard Dental Center has grown significantly and has served nearly 9,000 patients from all over the state.
The Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation furthers its mission not only through its own programs that focus on oral health education, but also by providing support to organizations, like St. Bernard Hospital, that provide access to care and make a significant impact on the oral and overall health of Illinoisans, specifically children. With the Wisdom Tooth Award, the Foundation is able to help further the goals of organizations and programs that create healthier communities by delivering oral health care and education to all Illinois residents regardless of their socioeconomic status, where they live or their level of need. To help the Foundation support more organizations like St. Bernard, please consider making a donation by visiting http://www.deltadentalil.com/ddilfoundation.