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For many working Americans, access to dental care is made possible because of their employers’ benefit package, which can include medical, dental and vision. However, dental care continues to be a top unmet health care need for many adults who are low-income seniors, medically fragile, or living with a disability. Adding to this public health issue is that basic Medicare coverage does not include dental care leaving many adults over the age of 65, like Virginian Russell Parrish Sr., without any form of dental insurance.

“Unlike previous generations, people are living longer and keeping their teeth, which means that dental care for an aging population is more complex,” said Dr. Randi Tillman, Chief Dental Officer, The Guardian Life Insurance Company. “Seniors like Russell Parrish, along with people who are medically fragile or living with a disability, are truly in need of dental care and have a difficult time accessing it given the structure of our current health care system.”

This poses a tremendous burden on vulnerable adults who don’t have access to care and need it to treat chronic dental conditions impacting their day-to-day life. Such was the case for Parrish who experienced a blessing in the midst of disaster. A retired computer technician for the VA Medical Center, he had no dental insurance and couldn’t afford the care that he desperately needed, causing him to suffer from dental problems as he got older.

A Bright Spot During a Tough Time

Life took an unexpected turn one day when Parrish and his wife came inside from gardening to get ready for dinner. With no signs of warning, a tornado hit their home in Moneta, Virginia, destroying it and leaving the couple to clean up the mess.

After surviving possibly the scariest eight seconds of their lives, they went outside to take in the damage done to their home. It was devastating. The ceiling and roof had been torn open, windows had blown out, and the entire house moved three feet from its foundation. The Parrish’s situation was an anomaly as theirs was the only house in the area impacted by the tornado. Local weather services gave no warning of a tornado, only strong winds. Friends reached out to lend a helping hand and after working with their insurance company, the Parrish couple soon found themselves living in a trailer on their property.

It was during this bleak time that Parrish got a call from Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s (VDAF) Donated Dental Services (DDS).He had been on the waiting list for nine months before placement with one of the program’s volunteer dentists, Dr. Garland Gentry. Under his care, Parrish was treated with 11 restorations and received upper and lower partial dentures. He was also in need of a root canal, so Dr. Gentry asked for support from an endodontist.

With all of the challenges in his life at that time, it was a relief for him to know that his dental care was in good hands. Mr. Parrish says everyone in Dr. Gentry’s office is “so nice, caring and people-oriented,” and he expresses his appreciation time and again for the program’s support at a troubling time for him and his wife. With DDS’s help, he was able to complete his care this past fall and the couple was able to move into a new trailer near where they had been living before the tornado.

Grant Provides Much-Needed Dental Care

To help more people like Parrish, Guardian Life recently awarded $400,000 to Dental Lifeline Network (DLN), a national nonprofit whose mission is to improve the oral health of people with disabilities or who are elderly or medically fragile and have no other way to get help. Over 15,000 dentists and 2,500 laboratories volunteer nationally for the DDS program.

“An estimated 3.8 million Virginians – nearly half our population – are without dental insurance and face a bevy of oral health-care challenges”, says Tara Quinn, VDAF Executive Director. “DDS patients face not only financial barriers to care, but are among our most vulnerable – seniors, the disabled, and medically-fragile. DDS provides them the comprehensive dental care that can change, and even save, their lives.”

A portion of this grant will help fast-track the waiting list in Virginia, which currently has more than 280 people waiting to be treated. Guardian’s support will also help the VDAF recruit additional volunteers and help fund an additional part-time coordinator.

To treat more applicants, the program is reaching out to dentists throughout Virginia to step in and help provide their dental services and more referral coordinators. To volunteer, Virginia dentists and laboratories interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact DDS at vdaf.org.

“We encourage local area dentists and laboratories to join us in our mission to serve Virginians in need,” said Dr. Tillman. “It takes very little time to make a significant difference in the life of one of your fellow citizens.”

To learn how Dental Lifeline Network is helping people like Russell Parrish, visit dentallifeline.org.

Special Note: Russel Parrish story provided by the Virginia Dental Association Foundation

This is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as healthcare advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice.

This material contains the current opinions of those quoted in this article, but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries and such opinions are subject to change without notice. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, NY.

2019-79257 (5/21)