Founded in 1996 by a group of dentists, Dentists Who Care was created in order to solve the problem of poor oral health in children across the Rio Grande Valley. This nonprofit organization has since provided over $11 million in charitable dental care to over thirty thousand children and adults.
Jacqueline Flores, executive director at Dentists Who Care, joined the organization in early 2019 and emphasizes how important funding is to its mission.
“It is a unique organization — there isn’t anything like it, especially here in the Valley,” Flores said. “Through grants and donations, we had a staff dentist on the mobile dental unit visiting community centers across the Rio Grande Valley.”
With the pandemic came changes to the overall structure of the organization, including a halt to operating out of their mobile unit and community centers across the Valley.
After applying for several grants, Flores was able to see some progress. The organization received funding from three different contributors in September to expand their voucher program.
“It has always been Dentists Who Care’s mission to improve and enhance the quality of life for low-income families who have no dental insurance through access to oral health care,” Flores stated in a recent news release. “We are able to do this thanks to over 100 dentists who donate their services to the Dentists Who Care mobile dental unit and their dental offices.”
DentaQuest, who donated $50,000 to help with pandemic relief, was just one of the contributors helping to make a difference.
Knapp Community Care Foundation, created in late 2012 with a mission to improve the health of Mid-Valley families in the Rio Grande Valley, contributed a $15,000 Emergency Grant to Dentists Who Care SMILE Voucher Program to assist them through the pandemic crisis.
The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation funds innovative projects to assist local nonprofit organizations in addressing healthcare-related needs of the community and residents of the Rio Grande Valley. Recently, they contributed $50,000 to Dentists Who Care SMILE Voucher Program.
“This is a monumental gift with extraordinary impact to Dentists Who Care,” Flores said.
The SMILE Voucher Program exists to solve immediate needs. The organization will use this grant money to connect patients in need with SMILE Voucher dentists throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Dentists Who Care receives referrals from community centers, school districts, and primary care centers. These are the partners that connect them with patients in need of dental services.
“Undoubtedly, a healthy mouth is imperative for, and indicative of, a healthy life,” said Dr. Adam Lalonde, president of Dentist Who Care. “Who can work — let alone sleep or study — with a toothache?”
Dentists Who Care seeks to give a happy and healthy smile to everyone who needs it — even those who can’t afford it.
Previously exclusive to children, the SMILE Voucher Program is now open to adults receiving dental care, as well. The purpose of this program is to provide dental care for people who have no dental insurance, are low-income, permanently disabled, children, and the elderly.
Patients seeking dental care through Dentists Who Care are required to fill out an application and complete a phone screening for the organization to gain more information on their situation.
“The patients we treat are already working and living in challenging conditions. Due to the pandemic, people have had wages cut and lost jobs — making matters worse,” Flores said. “We don’t turn anyone down. If it’s an emergency, we connect our patient with a SMILE Voucher Volunteer Dentist if we know they have no means to pay for it.”
Rodeo Dental founder Saam Zarrabi, DDS, has been on the Dentists Who Care board since early 2020. He has seen the organization making a difference in the lives of many individuals throughout the RGV.
“He’s been amazing at helping us with the amount of patients. He is part of our volunteer dentists,” Flores said. “When we had to shut down our mobile unit, we still had patients on a waiting list from the Weslaco area. Dr. Zarrabi really stepped it up and helped us take care of a lot of those patients.”
A recent applicant of the SMILE Voucher program was Ms. Macias, who was in need of dentures. Her current situation included a lot of infection in her gums.
“I have two teenage daughters. My 17-year-old is the only one working. I am not working because of the pandemic and we can barely pay our rent,” Macias said, in tears.
After coordinating care with Dr. Gary Schwarz, Dr. Miguel Castillo, Methodist Health Ministries and Midline Dental Lab, Dentists Who Care was able to provide her with dentures at no cost to her.
“Our patients do not want free work and they are very humble people, but they just do not have the means to pay,” Flores said. “The services she has received are well over $6,000 — money she did not have.”
“She was in dire pain, and she needed help. When he saw her, he was in tears,” Flores said, recalling her conversation with Dr. Schwarz. “We could not leave this patient without teeth.”
This is just one story and there are many like it.
As a nonprofit, charitable organization, Dentists Who Care relies heavily on donations in order to continue providing the community with help. Flores would like to inform the general public about the importance of donations, grants, and funding.
Other areas of support for the organization come from the Charity CE Dental Conference, held every year at South Padre Island in October. Unfortunately, due to COVID, these types of events have been postponed.
“We bring speakers from all over the country to give continuing educational courses and we have over 400 dental professionals attend,” Flores said. “Our other event is the Charity Golf Tournament in April.”
She remains optimistic that they can raise the funds needed through these events next year. In addition to funding, Dentists Who Care is also seeking volunteer dentists.
For volunteer information or to donate, visit the website at http://www.dentistswhocare.us/ or call (956) 318-3383.
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