Something to smile about


When you think of dental health and oral care, you may not be thinking of a heart attack at the same time. But you should.

According to the Mayo Clinic, oral health provides a window into your overall health. “Normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control,” the Mayo Clinic’s website states. “However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.”

Poor oral hygiene can lead to other health issues, like cardiovascular disease, endocarditis, and pneumonia. For pregnant women, it can cause birth complications. Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic reports, other illnesses can affect your oral health, like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s why it is so imperative for good oral hygiene to be backed up by regular visits to a dentist for checkups. The American Dental Association recommends visits every six months to a dentist for a cleaning and overall oral wellness check.

For folks on Martha’s Vineyard, this hasn’t been easy in the past few years.

In 2020, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital closed its dental clinic after the last remaining dentist in the program decided to leave the hospital for family reasons. The two chairs there were a losing proposition for the hospital, and we all know that hospitals are not in the business of losing money. At issue? The hospital was not able to get the kinds of reimbursements it needed to sustain the program.

That’s what makes the MVYouth grant of $500,000 toward an Island Health Care dental clinic such a huge investment in the wellness of the community. Island Health Care CEO Cynthia Mitchell tells us that the donation will go a long way toward the capital costs of the clinic planned for Edgartown. 

While programs like Vineyard Smiles, funded by the M.V. Community Foundation and Island boards of health, have attempted to fill the gap in dental services on the Island, they can only do so much during their brief visits. 

The IHC dental clinic will provide services to individuals on Medicaid, something no dentist on the Island does. They’ll also do it through a collaboration with Boston University, one of the pre-eminent universities for dental education. IHC’s staffing plan currently includes hiring a supervising dental director, pediatric dental residents, dental residents, and dental hygienists. Through partnership with the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, IHC has access to experts who have advised them about their capital budget and operations. Boston University will also be instrumental in staffing the facility with rotating dental residents.

So why will this clinic thrive while the one at the hospital didn’t? IHC is a federally qualified community health center, which means it qualifies for reimbursement through Medicaid. In Massachusetts, that means individuals and families on MassHealth can get dental care on the Island. Mitchell put it in simple terms for us. Where the hospital might only be eligible for $80 per visit through insurance reimbursements, the dental clinic will be able to recoup “a couple of hundred” for the care.

In its nearly 20 years on the Island, IHC has become an important provider of healthcare services to the Vineyard community. The dental clinic is another big and important step — surely something worth smiling about.