When James arrived at our dental clinic, his mouth pain was excruciating from years of inadequate oral health care. Not a single tooth could be saved, and in order to prepare his mouth for dentures, multiple surgeries were required. He showed up for each appointment faithfully. Four months later, the results were life-changing.
“Transformational is an understatement,” says James.
Like many patients, James was connected with the dental program while visiting one of our 30 shelter clinics, the Pine Street Inn at Shattuck. There, he asked the BHCHP clinician to help him with his tooth pain. They made the referral immediately to our dental clinic. “My teeth were a mess — crumbling and falling out… and they hurt so much,” he says. “I always had tooth problems. As a kid I had to have all my baby teeth pulled out. Needless to say, I didn’t like to go to the dentist.”
That changed when he started his treatment at BHCHP. “I was never once judged. I was always treated incredibly respectfully, like a human being,” he says. “It’s a safe environment. Every step of the way was explained to me, and the staff had great expertise. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.”
Oral health and overall health are inextricably linked
James is just one of the 1,600 patients treated each year at our dental clinic. Our patients’ dental issues are often more advanced than those of housed patients for many reasons, including limited access to clean water, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Taking care of their teeth is often low on their list of priorities compared to more immediate needs like food, shelter, and safety.
The health implications of poor oral health go far beyond the mouth. According to Dr. Tara Prasad, BHCHP’s Dental Director, painful or missing teeth can affect your ability to eat a nutritious diet, which affects health in countless ways. Our dental team pays particularly close attention to patients whose medical conditions are complicated by untreated oral health conditions or whose health conditions put their oral health at risk, such as patients with diabetes, HIV/AIDs, and prescribed Suboxone for Opiate Use Disorder. Untreated dental disease makes you more susceptible to pneumonia because the proliferation of bacteria in the mouth can be aspirated into the lungs.
And the social implications are profound too. Interviewing for a job or engaging with people socially or in the workplace can seem impossible. Oftentimes, patients will train themselves not to smile.
It’s thanks to the generosity of donors like you that we are able to provide high quality dental, medical care, and behavioral health care to patients like James. For him and countless others, the dental clinic can serve as the point of entry to the many other services BHCHP provides. James was referred to BHCHP’s medical clinic at 780 Albany Street, in the same building as the dental clinic, and there, staff helped him apply for health benefits and connected him with his primary care team. When he shared that he’d like to quit smoking, his BHCHP provider prescribed nicotine lozenges and he successfully kicked the habit.
Excellent care delivered with compassion
James continues to be awed by the dedication of BHCHP’s staff. Early this year, a tooth fell out of his dentures and he brought them to the dental office, two days before a holiday weekend. Bessy, our dental practice manager, was leaving for the day and offered to bring them directly to the laboratory on her way home. Thanks to her actions and the lab’s quick work, he got the dentures back the next day. James was thrilled to have them for the holiday. “She didn’t have to do that, but that’s the kind of people who work here. They really care.”
Today, James has a sales job that he loves. “I couldn’t do sales, which requires meeting with customers, without these teeth. People wouldn’t trust me. I look respectable with a nice smile,” he says confidently, “I love sales…and it gives me a lot of satisfaction because I’m selling a product that saves people money, especially hard-working families. I’m very happy and I work hard.”
He marvels at what a difference a full set of teeth can make. “No one wants to meet someone without any teeth,” he says, and he’s proud when folks remark on his nice smile, “I tell them my teeth are like stars to me, but I don’t tell them it’s because they come out at night!”
James is able to smile again and “transform” his life thanks to the commitment of our staff who share the mission of providing equitable and dignified access to the highest quality health care for all individuals experiencing homelessness in our community. But we cannot do this work without your support. Your contribution makes a profound difference in the lives of the more than 10,000 individuals and families we are honored to serve every year.