Posted Monday, February 18, 2013--10:00 p.m.
It began as a graduate research project looking into the oral health of the homeless. When she discovered just how bad the problem was, dental hygienist Lisa Bell wanted to do something about it.
In 2009, with the backing of volunteer dental professionals, Bell opened the Madison Dental Initiative (MDI) at the Salvation Army in Madison.
MDI provides the homeless and those at high risk of being homeless with free dental care. Many of the patients are pregnant women and families.
Bell says, "This specific project was built to fill that need between those who can access dental care and those who simply cannot. For me, this is just a vision of what we thought could be, and the dental professionals of the Madison area have made it reality."
About thirty volunteer dentists and dental professionals clean teeth, fill cavities, and even provide dentures to those in need. The clinic served more than 600 patients last year, providing 240-thousand dollars worth of free dental services in 2012.
Dr. Rambod Fard volunteers at the clinic after treating paying patients all day. He says, "We're compensated handsomely. Let's not deny that. There is a significant part of the population that isn't as fortunate " If you have a bone of humanity in your body, you have to recognize that there's an unmet need. If the situation and time allows you to volunteer, I think it's important to seize it and do something about it...and not be a passive observer on the sidelines and say 'tsk tsk' at someone else for not fixing this problem. It's just part of being the solution here."
Bad teeth can lead to more serious health problems and a lack of self confidence--something many homeless people already struggle with.
Single mother Monique Young, whose two young boys were seeing dentists at the clinic, says, "It means a lot. It's very important. It's really helpful. I really appreciate it. Thanks (to the volunteers) for taking the time out of their schedule to get us booked in, as hard as it is...and thanks a lot for the support."
For those volunteers, bringing smiles to others brings smiles to their faces.
Bell says, "It's really by God's grace that we're not in this position. I think it means that we've given someone hope...and through a smile, you tell the world all about yourself."
They're now close to having the Madison Dental Initiative clinic open five days a week. They do need more volunteers and donations to make that happen.
If you'd like to help, go to this link.