- According to the ADA, more than 180 million Americans won’t visit a dentist this year. And many have dental issues that can lead to even bigger problems. The CDC reported that 19 percent of children age 5-19 years-old have untreated dental caries and 32 percent of adults age 20-44 years-old aren’t receiving treatment for their dental caries. This report doesn’t even take into consideration gum disease, oral cancer and other untreated dental conditions.
Obviously, there’s a need for regular dental care, but many (approximately 100 million) don’t have dental insurance, and unfortunately, there are far too many Americans who don’t have access to care. There are programs available to try to bridge the gap and events such as Missions of Mercy and Give Kids a Smile that attract dentists who provide nearly $2.6 billion in free care each year. In many cities, there are also charitable clinics like Atlanta’s free Ben Massell Dental Clinic, which is the country’s oldest and largest charity clinic.
The Ben Massell Dental Clinic recruits volunteer dentists in the greater Atlanta area to serve in the clinic for a half-day each month. They also work with the local dental school, the Dental College of Georgia in Augusta, to provide externships for most fourth-year students. This program not only benefits the community, but also the dental students who gain valuable, hands-on experience outside of the classroom.
I got involved with the clinic through a three-week summer externship when I was in dental school a “few” years ago. After graduation and before I worked at a practice, I would go and work for a couple of days a week. After I began practicing, I continued to volunteer one day a month. Now, I serve on the board and volunteer along with other Hinman Dental Society member dentists.
There are approximately 150 volunteer dentists (almost half of which are Hinman members) who, along with students and residents, perform more than 20,000 dental procedures a year. This treatment is valued at $4.6 million, but more importantly, keeps our indigent patients out of local emergency rooms and increases the self-sufficiency and quality of life for our most marginalized neighbors.
Over the years, many Hinman members and their sons and daughters have volunteered at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Dr. Richard Weinman and I help guide a program where students do externships – 14 rotations throughout the year, each two weeks at a time.
It’s important for dental students to have an opportunity to work outside the dental school, but still under the supervision of a practicing dentist. At the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, students will work with a different doctor – sometimes a specialist and sometimes a general dentist – every day. This process exposes them to different philosophies and experiences.
They learn lots of tips and tricks from the dentist volunteering that day. It’s a wonderful experience to take advantage of while providing a much-needed service in the community.
I learned a great deal from some of the doctors who supervised me when I was a student. I continued to reach out to them for advice in the years that followed. My son Zach is now a volunteer student at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. He recently completed his first two root canals at the clinic, which gave him hands-on experience with a procedure he might not otherwise have had at this point in his young career.
A 100-Plus Year History
The Ben Massell Dental Clinic has been in Atlanta as long as the Hinman Dental Meeting. It was started 107 years ago by philanthropist Morris Hirsch. Oral health became the focus in 1929 to provide dental care to those who couldn’t afford services. In 1956, Dr. Irving M. Goldstein, an Atlanta dentist and former Chief of Staff at the Morris Hirsch Clinic, and Dr. Marvin Goldstein, his brother and successor, moved the clinic from its original location. With the help of Ben Massell, one of Atlanta’s most prominent builders and developers, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the clinic was expanded and relocated to offer fullservice care.
In 2008, the clinic was updated and modernized with the help of the Jewish Family & Career Services, the clinic’s parent organization. A $5.5 million capital campaign chaired by Cathy Selig- Kuranoff, granddaughter of Ben Massell, allows the dental clinic to offer 16 treatment rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. The clinic added an AEGD program in partnership with Grady Memorial Hospital and the HIV/AIDS outpatient clinic teaching four residents each year. Clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic are a vital part of the community.
This clinic alone sees more than 3,500 patients and fills a great need in Atlanta. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for emerging dentists to gain significant clinical experience while giving back to their community like the volunteers who are Hinman members. To find more opportunities like this one:
Attend National Dental Meetings:
You’ll find at most national dental conferences, like the Hinman Dental Meeting, that organizations such as the Ben Massell Dental Clinic will have a booth in the Exhibit Hall.
- Contact State Dental Associations: Contact your state dental association to see if they can direct you to volunteer opportunities like this one.
- Call State Department of Public Health: Your state’s Public Health Department can direct you to dental volunteer events and organizations.