Four years ago, clients in recovery at Community-Minded Enterprises (CME) identified that their oral health was affecting their ability to get hired by employers. While many oral health care providers turned away from offering up its services, the EWU Dental Hygiene Program saw potential for a mutually beneficial partnership – and the Recovering Smiles Program was created.
Over the years, EWU’s Dental Hygiene Program has made a lot of local connections for its students to get practical, hands-on experience working with clients – the VA Medical Center, Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, Lake Spokane Dental Clinic and CHAS Dental Clinic to name a few – but none have been quite like Recovering Smiles.
Student involvement in this program is voluntary and the student-client relationship is established in the beginning through an after clinic hours orientation, with goals in place for both parties. For the patients, many have fear about receiving dental care and aren’t entirely comfortable with receiving dental treatment from students. On the other hand, the orientation is an opportunity for the students to overcome any stigmas they may have about working with people in recovery.
“The students very much love this program,” said Lisa Bilich, EWU dental hygiene professor and clinic coordinator. “They take them under their wings and are like ‘Oh my gosh, they’re my favorite clients.’ Of course, dental hygiene students, they would like to solve all of the world’s problems, but they realize, maybe just this little part is OK.”
Part of what makes this partnership work financially is that EWU’s Dental Hygiene Clinic at the EWU Spokane campus is a nonprofit organization, where qualifying individuals can get financial help through an Access to Recovery grant and Apple Health.
“We just need enough to keep the place running,” said Bilich. “So our clinic can do more for less money, so it was a win-win situation.”
In return, patients are required to be 90 days drug-free and never miss an appointment, among other conditions that, if broken, would result in cancellation of the treatment.
In September – National Recovery Month – 22 dental hygiene students and EWU’s Master of Public Health students joined hand in hand on the Monroe Street Bridge in support of people in recovery and to bring awareness to addiction. The Hands Across the Falls event was organized by Community-Minded Enterprises with hundreds of people in attendance. Some of which were the students’ clients and many others that were in recovery.
In addition to the work being done with outside community partners, the dental hygiene program also offers services to anyone at the student-led, EWU Spokane Campus Clinic.
“The bus comes right to us and we’re about a quarter of the price of private practice,” said Bilich. “We’re always looking for patients.”