A Year Defined by Silver Linings

Submitted by the KinderSmile Foundation

The year 2020 has proven to be a difficult year, but for KinderSmile Foundation, it was defined by silver linings.

Thanks to a technology capital improvement grant from Partners for Health Foundation, which was received immediately prior to the Dental Home closures necessitated by COVID-19, we were able to continue to serve the community remotely. The new laptop computers included all necessary software, including our HIPAA compliant patient management system. This enabled us to create a virtual slideshow to present oral health education to students and staff at partnering schools, hold Zoom staff meetings, and continue to track and report data to our grantors. Most importantly, through the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus, when our Dental Homes were closed for three months, our KinderSmile Community Oral Health Center Bloomfield dentists attended to more than 36 teledentistry calls for various dental emergencies of infections and swellings.

The ability to provide virtual services during the pandemic has been a valuable culture of health change, especially for our uninsured and underinsured patients, and recalls the original story that led Dr. Nicole McGrath-Barnes to found KinderSmile Foundation. In 2007, a 12 year-old Black boy from Baltimore died from an untreated dental infection that traveled to his brain. His story was the sign that Dr. Nicole had been waiting for, compelling her to establish KinderSmile Foundation with a mission of providing underserved children with access to comprehensive dental care and to educate children and their families about the importance of dental hygiene, envisioning a future where every child has access to a dentist and preventable dental diseases are eradicated.

Our Dental Homes fill a large gap in New Jersey’s available resources, allowing underserved at-risk children to receive high-quality comprehensive oral health care in a barrier-free, clean, welcoming, educational, and accessible setting.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the health inequities that continue to plague the inner cities, underscoring socioeconomic and racial disparities in access to care. Black and Hispanic Americans have been affected at four times the rate of white Americans by COVID-19. The rise in unemployment has further disparaged these communities. Despite the increase in need and cost of PPE and infection control supplies due to this pandemic, we continue our mission of providing care to at-risk patients in a safe environment to for our staff, volunteers, and community, without seeking any additional fees from our patients. We also continue to work with community partners to educate and stress the importance of linking patients to our Dental Home, thereby helping the state of NJ reduce burdens on hospital emergency departments.

We thank Partners for Health for helping us serve the community and achieve these silver linings, enabling us to give more children and families a fighting chance to live. One smile at a time!