Grant money to support dental care in Berkshires for those in need

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Two local organizations devoted to helping low-income residents care for their teeth are the recent recipients of grants that will boost their mission.

The Massachusetts Dental Society Foundation has awarded $16,000 to Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires so the Great Barrington-based medical and dental organization can add extra dental hygienist hours to support the all-volunteer dentist staff at its free dental clinic.

And Hillcrest Dental Care, Inc. in Pittsfield received $20,000 to buy a portable dental unit to travel to children across the county who do not have access to a dentist. The unit, which Hillcrest says could serve more than 400 children in its first year, will also be transported to schools, places of worship, and organizations like Head Start, the Salvation Army, as well as Hillcrest Educational Center's programs for young people with a variety of disabilities.

"The primary purpose of the portable dental unit will be to provide dental care to children who are not receiving adequate services and help them establish a permanent dental home with either a dental practice in the community or with Hillcrest Dental Care," Andrew Budz, Hillcrest's clinical director, said in a statement.

For Volunteers in Medicine, their free dental program is fast expanding to support patients who can't afford a dentist, some of whom have never seen one. About 200 new patients will likely come through VIM's doors this year and many will require elaborate dental work that will take months to complete.

"VIM is dedicated to keeping up with increasing patient numbers," said Whitney Smith, the dental practice manager. The Foundation also granted VIM's dental program $25,000 in March.

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The Foundation works through the Massachusetts Dental Society to raise money for its mission to support dental health throughout the state.

Robert Lewando, the Foundation's chairman, said that he hopes the Foundation will keep growing with generous donations that will help needy communities and people who, without such services, would go without dental care.

Smith told The Eagle in March that about 15 percent of VIM's dental care patients are veterans, and that most patients who first come to the dental practice arrive in "acute pain."

She said there is at least one reason for this.

"History has shown that medical insurance is easier to get than dental insurance. People tend to forget that dental is part of their body. And unless they have a full-time job with benefits, most people don't have a dental plan."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871


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