The Dental OPTIONS (Ohio Partnership To Improve Oral health through access to Needed Services) program achieved a milestone at the end of June, when the total reported value of donated/discounted dental care surpassed $2.5M. This is since the program's inception in 1997; however, in the past three years, the value of donated services has substantially increased as the program grew across the state. The program reached the $1M dentist treatment value in fall 2000. The mission of Dental OPTIONS is to help Ohioans with special health care needs and/or financial barriers obtain needed dental care.
Dental OPTIONS is a statewide private-public partnership between the Ohio Dental Association (ODA) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) that links people in need with dentists who treat qualified patients at reduced or donated fees. There are more than 700 Ohio dentists participating in the program and the majority are ODA members.
David Owsiany, executive director of the ODA, said reaching this milestone in such a short time validates the spirit of giving back to the community that is so inherent in dentistry. "Our members have always been responsive to helping meet the oral health care needs of the underserved, and those for whom access to care is a problem in this state." Owsiany said that as impressive as this $2.5M figure is, there is another reality that is just as validating: many of the ODA's 5,400 members also provide free or discounted care to patients in need outside of the OPTIONS program. Many more also travel to remote areas of the world to provide care.
Dr. John Gerstenmaier, an Akron dentist and chair of the ODA's OPTIONS Steering Committee, said that while reaching the $2.5M figure is a tremendous accomplishment for Ohio dentistry, it is also an indicator of the access to care need that exists in Ohio -- as it does across the country. "We encourage dentists to continue to enroll as providers in OPTIONS. The ODA and ODH have been so responsive to meeting the access to care need, and we must continue to do our part."
OPTIONS patients must meet income guidelines and have no dental insurance or Medicaid. Referral coordinators in the state determine the individual's financial eligibility and match eligible patients with OPTIONS providers. Patients who do not meet the financial need criteria of the OPTIONS program are provided information by the coordinators on other safety net or assistance programs such as Medicaid/Healthy Start for which they may be eligible. In the last year, over 4,000 Ohioans were helped through the program, either as OPTIONS patients or through referrals.
For additional information on oral health issues and dentistry in Ohio, visit www.oda.org .