Unlike AFC’s medical programs in which volunteers donate time and care is free to patients, AFC must pay our dental staff and incurs steep (and climbing) material and lab expenses. This means certain costs must flow to patients. Patient feedback via surveys and focus groups in 2022 unveiled cost—even the $25 initial appointment fee—as the biggest barrier to obtaining dental care. While our drastically reduced fees are feasible for some, most patients earn less than $15K per year, making more advanced services (e.g., deep cleanings, root canals, dentures) inaccessible. Our providers estimate 70% of dental treatment plans are “adjusted” for patient affordability. While these plans get patients out of pain and help avoid dangerous infections in the short-term, they often fail to yield lasting results, and patients later return with no alternative to tooth loss.
AFC is committed to bringing down patient dental costs. Our new lead dentist, Dr. Janeen Asfour, is exploring different laboratory partners that offer lower costs for dentures, partials, and crowns. Last month, we visited HELP Clinic (a nonprofit that operates a charitable dental clinic in Hampton Roads, VA) to learn about their 3-D printer and opportunities to partner around lower-cost fabrication of dentures and crowns. We will continue to explore other strategies and expand dental volunteer recruitment efforts with the goal of building our capacity to provide comprehensive oral healthcare—that goes beyond basic cleanings, fillings, and extractions to include advanced/ restorative services like dentures and crowns—in an affordable and sustainable way.