Dental Health Arlington works on a mission of salvaging teeth, beautiful smiles for a lifetime


The four patients waiting for their next chair at Arlington Dental Health Center are clearly not happy campers at the moment. This is an understandable attitude for someone who (a) has pain from grinding their teeth and (b) is about to sit in a dental chair near various sharp objects.

Is not fun. Even with a good attitude, there are times when, if it's any consolation, the fear is worse than the experience. Much worse.

Of course, it may be easier for them to smile if their mouth is a little numb for a few hours.

This year, nearly 4,000 low-income, uninsured patients will come to Arlington Dental Health Center, 501 W. Sanford Street, to receive a host of services — exams, cleanings, X-rays, fillings and extractions, and root canal treatment.

Brin points out that a typical scenario goes like this: Joe or Jane, an average Joe or Jane with a good income and insurance, bites into a crunchy piece of food and blows out a tooth. Or just wake up with a toothache. They call in sick, make dental appointments, get sick pay while they're out, and that's about it.

Low-income Joe and Jane do the same thing, but without insurance, lose their job if they miss work, can't afford a dentist anyway, sometimes get very sick, or overcome so much pain that they end up in emergencies They may only get temporary rooms because emergency rooms and clinics don't offer dental services.

The Arlington nonprofit is essentially a two-part program: the dental services clinic and the youth education and services component of the Arlington schools.

The nonprofit runs a program called “SMILES” for children in Arlington schools, which in recent years has served nearly 10,000 children annually in more than 40 schools. Many of them had never seen a dentist before that point.

“This program provides oral hygiene instruction, sealants, fluoride varnish and toothbrushes to elementary school students in underserved communities in Arlington,” Breen noted. “In some extreme cases, we identify children who are in immediate need of emergency dental care.”

History of Arlington Dental Health Center: A 1991 United Way needs assessment study determined that Arlington's less affluent population needed affordable dental care. Under the leadership of Mission Arlington, and with donations from Allan Saxe (the original clinic's namesake) and others, a facility was created downtown in 1993 that was cobbled together largely from donated equipment and staffed by volunteer dentists composition.

Although Dental Health Arlington separated from Mission Arlington in 2000 and established new offices on Front Street, the practice still exists. For many years the executive director has been Sally Hopper. The nonprofit's initial focus was on-campus education and testing, but in recent years it established its own clinic at the Arlington Public Services Building on Sanford Street, moving there from Front Street in 2017.

Arlington Dental Health Center is not a free dental service, but the cost is low compared to traditional services. Its clients must also be uninsured and their income must be less than 200% of federal guidelines. A comprehensive exam costs $45, a filling costs $90, and more complex services such as root canals can cost up to $700.

There are emergency exceptions, Breen said, and “things like dental appointment plans where you can pay a little bit at a time in advance.”

Breen will soon step down as executive director after a decade-long tenure to become director of the Scottish Children's Dental Clinic in Dallas. Ortiz-Grelard, current dental clinic director in Arlington, has been named interim executive director.

Since its founding 31 years ago, the Arlington nonprofit has steadily expanded the school-based programs it offers free to students, initially focusing on only a few of the city's lowest-income schools, a characteristic closely associated with inadequate dental care.

SMILES Director Glenda Bell explains what the school program is all about: “We go into Title I Arlington schools and teach the kids how to brush their teeth and provide them with toothbrushes. We teach them about proper oral health nutrition and the importance of visiting the dentist. If parents allow, we will also apply sealants and fluoride to their teeth.

Parents are also informed of their child's dental status. Simple grades 1, 2 or 3. Grade 3 is equivalent to good or excellent. 2 means the child needs to see a dentist within six months. Level 1 means the child requires immediate emergency care.

Nonprofits also often become a child's primary dental care provider, Bell noted.

Breen added that sometimes adults who visit the clinic need some education, too.

We try to educate patients who come to Arlington Dental Health Center,” Breen said. “They see grandma and grandpa wearing dentures, so they think, 'You know what, one day my teeth are going to fall out too.'” But here, we really want to educate them that if you do something every day, every year With one or two visits to the dentist, and we provide access and affordability, they can choose to take care of their teeth for a lifetime.

Contact OK Carter at okcarter@fortworthreport.org. At The Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters.Learn more about our editorial independence policy here.

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