After this was published in the November 2014 issue of Boomer and Senior News, one reader wrote to tell us that this organization required them to prove that they did some number of hours of volunteer work each month before they could get dental treatment. CH2M hadn’t mentioned that to me so I followed up on that with them and found out that when they first started that was a requirement. But as of January 2014 they closed their permanent location and now operate entirely out of the revamped shipping container, so the volunteer hours are no longer a requirement for the dental services because they have no way (or the desire) to track the paperwork for that. So if you had heard of that before and that was holding you back, hold back no longer.
Making a Difference Through Dental Care
Caring Hand 2 Mouth provides free dental services locally and around the world.
By Vanessa Salvia
According to the American Dental Association, two thirds of Americans are able to obtain regular dental care. For the remaining third, which is nearly 106 million people, a variety of reasons may keep them from ever seeing a dentist. According to ADA, the people who may never see a dentist are racial and ethnic minorities, people who are chronically ill, elderly and frail, and low income. Many of these people have trouble just getting to a dental appointment, much less paying for one.
To break down these barriers, in 2006 Eugene dentist Cedric Ross Hayden and his wife, Julie, started a non-profit mobile dentistry service called Caring Hand to Mouth. In addition to local services, Caring Hand to Mouth also regularly travels to the Federated States of Micronesia, an island nation in the western Pacific Ocean. “We provide cleaning, extractions and fillings, routine care,” says Hayden. “In Micronesia there’s a large population of people with zero access to dental care, and now they have access.”
The Hayden family is well-known in local dentistry. Cedric’s father was also a dentist who spent about half of his professional career working in the field of public health. “He had 6 kids,” says Hayden, “and he would travel around the world to work for public health and he took his kids with him.”
As Cedric R.’s career grew, he and his brother, dentist Matthew J. Hayden, formed a group of about 20 dental clinics serving low income or rural regions across the state of Oregon. In 2009, many of those clinics were sold to a larger group with a similar mission, and the funds were invested in Caring Hand to Mouth.
Randy Meyer is CH2M’s executive director. The non-profit operates out of a customized shipping container which is parked 2 or 3 times a year in the parking lot of a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Springfield. “We need 40 feet of clearance and a good truck driver,” jokes Meyer. The shipping container is purchased new from the Port of Portland. Four hydraulic units allow it to be raised off the truck bed and set down, although it can’t be completely on the ground or else city government considers it a building, so when the container is in service it remains on the truck bed.
A Eugene-based company called Western Shelter Systems builds mobile hospitals and other mobile shelters. Western Shelter modifies the shipping container by adding vents that open and close, a bathroom, a sink, water and electrical hook-ups, and anything else that you would think a dental clinic on wheels might need. Western Shelter has built 11 of these mobile clinics to provide dental and eye care and a variety of other basic medical needs to rural and foreign communities. Everything on the outside of the container must be removable to within an 1/8-inch of the walls. “When everything is stripped off and closed up, we can take this container up to Seattle and it can be shipped anywhere in the world,” says Meyer.
Inside the container is a generator, two dental chairs, an air compressor, a hand-held X-ray machine, a dry-vac (which is the suction tube the dentists uses to remove water from the mouth), and electrical outlets that power the autoclave (a sterilizer). The tools are kept in a large metal toolbox cabinet with shallow drawers, like what you might have in your garage. The entire container is heated and cooled through a heat pump mounted on the ceiling. Fully modified and equipped, the container costs about $200,000.
Most of the people who visit Caring Hand to Mouth find out about it through word-of-mouth or through visiting other community resources such as White Bird, the Rescue Mission or through the churches that host it. When CH2M travels to rural communities such as Oakridge, they like to have at least 10 people signed up to make it cost-effective to travel there, so many communities keep lists of people who are interested until there’s enough support for the container to pay them a visit.
In addition to Dr. Hayden, who volunteers his services as a dentist, a dentist from Eugene named Jeff Casebier also helps out, along with a volunteer team of hygienists and dental assistants. Karen Wechner, who is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Eugene, volunteers as the receptionist of sorts. Wechner’s been helping for nearly 6 months. “They had one of these come to our church in Eugene one day and I wanted to be able to help out,” she says. “I have Fridays off, so I figured I would do something useful with that time.”
Jesse Fox, a senior at South Eugene High School, has been helping out since July. He went to the Blackberry Jam with in Lowell this summer to hand out toothbrushes alongside CH2M. He wants to be a dentist, but at this point he mostly observes and learns what he can from the crew. “My mom works at a medical office and she had a list of healthcare facilities around Oregon that need help,” Fox says “I observe and help with sterilization. It’s been a great experience.”
CH2M sees many children as well as low-income adults. They serve people with income below 150 percent of the poverty rate, which for a family of 4 is less than $35,775. They started out seeing people with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty rate but found that they had a hard time filling up their roster with people. “All you have to do is provide any proof of income,” Meyer says. “If you don’t have any income then get a letter from the person you are living with or the person who is helping you pay your rent. Anything that can show me your need, and we’ll get you started.”
The Oregon Health Plan is getting more and more people signed up, says Meyer, which means more people have coverage. “Which is great,” he says, “more people have health care and dental care.” Still, there are large numbers of seniors who don’t quite qualify for health care under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, along with families who are under-employed but make too much to qualify for public assistance. Meyer says that many people will come to see CH2M a time or two until their alternative health care becomes available. CH2M is applying for grants to put into place collaborations with Oregon’s health care plan and school districts in Oakridge, Lowell and McKenzie River.
CH2M has grown over the years. In 2007, the group donated supplies and dental tools to a remote clinic in northern Nepal. In 2008, dental services were provided to low-income schoolchildren in John Day, Oregon. In 2010, Matthew Hayden traveled extensively in South Africa to develop free dental clinics. The shipping container dental clinic debuted in 2011, and made its first visit to Micronesia in December 2012 and will continue to go back 2 or 3 times a year. “If you’re somewhere like that where you have no access to dental care and you get an abscessed tooth, it truly can be a life-threatening situation,” Cedric says. Now, that situation is set to change.
Caring Hand to Mouth