Being a dentist in the clinic is so rewarding because I do more than just work on peoples teethI help to improve peoples self-image, says Robert Bagramian, professor of dentistry and founder of the Community Dental Center, a non-profit program jointly sponsored by the City of Ann Arbor and the U-M.
Many of the homeless we work with are very appreciative of the personal care we can give them, adds Bagramian. This is one of the few places where they can go to get cared for when they have dental problems. The dental work can often change the patients appearance and improve self-confidence.
While not all people seen by the center are under financial duressthe center does take the U-Ms regular and enhanced dental plans 84 percent of the 3,000 patient visits last year were classified as low-income. Bagramian says the Center tries to see as many patients as possible, regardless of their ability to pay, but there is a limit to what can be done because of the limited financial support.
Medicaid only reimburses us for 40 percent of our fee, and we see many patients who cannot afford any payment. Fortunately, United Way did provide $17,000 last year to help offset the costs of caring for low-income patients, he notes. But many cities the same size as Ann Arbor have dental clinics that are fully funded by local, county or state government. Since we dont have that luxury, we are constantly looking for ways to support seeing more patients.
Bagramian believes the struggle for funding is well worth the effort when he sees how a patient has been helped.
He tells of a man who lost all of his possessionsincluding his dentureswhen his home was destroyed by fire. The distressed man, who had no insurance, contacted the Center with his plight. He was a salesman whose job performance relied on his appearance. In just a few days, he was provided with new dentures. Bagramian says that something as simple as the new dentures lifted the mans spirits, allowed him to return to work and helped him cope with the disaster.
Its interesting how much I can learn about a person just from looking in their mouth, Bagramian says. When I see a homeless patient, I sometimes see a long history of dental work and only recent signs of decay. I know that only recently has their life taken a negative turn. He adds that visiting the dental clinic is often a sign that people are trying to turn their lives around by improving how they look and feel.
Bagramian says the Center tries to work with young children so they learn the importance of proper dental care at a young age. People are traumatized by dental work. We work with lots of kids from Medicaid families and the Head Start programwe receive many referrals from social service agencies. Lots of these kids dont go to the dentist until they are 4 or 5 years old. We try to create a positive image for them. We teach them at a young age that they need to care for their teethwe hope we can catch them while they are still young, he notes.
The clinic is staffed full time by a dentist, a hygienist and clerical staff. In addition, faculty members work 1 1/2 days each week and senior dental students do rotations.
While the center does not receive undesignated United Way dollars, donors can request that their United Way donation go to the Community Dental Center. This years U-M United Way campaign lists 60 funded agencies that receive both designated and undesignated funds, and 54 non-funded agencies that receive only donor-designated funds.
The U-Ms United Way campaign for $1 million-plus runs through October. Anyone with questions about the U-M campaign can send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.