When people don’t have dental coverage and can’t afford care, most simply go without. They suffer chronic pain, struggle to swallow or speak, and risk systemic infections and tooth loss. For some, the pain is so severe it interferes with their ability to work, to live a normal life, to smile. Fortunately, a comprehensive dental benefit is now available to all adults enrolled in Medicaid (effective July 1, 2021), providing dental coverage to more than 750,000 low-income Virginians.

While there are some safety net dentists providing care for low-income and uninsured adults, they are inundated with patients. And far too many Virginia communities have no dental safety net at all. In some rural areas, there is just one dentist for every 5,000+ individuals.

  • 64 Virginia localities have no dental safety net provider.
  • While there now are 100 dental safety net sites in Virginia, many only offer care on a part-time basis.

Although the need for dental care for adults is particularly acute, children also face obstacles obtaining care.  FAMIS state-sponsored children’s health insurance covers dental care, but Virginia still suffers from a significant shortage of pediatric dentists.

How VHCF is helping

The Virginia Health Care Foundation is working on many levels to help Virginians receive the dental care they need:

Grants: VHCF dental grants totaling more than $15.5 million have helped establish or expand 54 dental safety net sites statewide. From providing funding for dental equipment to helping underwrite the salaries of dentists and hygienists, VHCF is committed to bringing dental care to those most in need.

Discounts: VHCF’s partnership with Patterson Dental enables providers serving the uninsured to receive a substantial discount on dental equipment and supplies, maintenance and repair and dental practice management software. This partnership has brought over $2.6 million in savings to Virginia’s dental safety net.

Dental Safety Net Clinics in Virginia: Click here for an interactive map of Dental Safety Net Clinics in Virginia

Resources: VHCF offers host a wealth of resources for dental safety net providers — from how to start-up a dental clinic to how to handle no-shows.

Best Practices: VHCF’s Tooth Talk Roundtable and Listserv give dental providers an opportunity to share best practices and brainstorm about effective ways to grow and strengthen the dental safety net in Virginia. To sign-up for the Tooth Talk Listserv or to find out more about Tooth Talk Roundtables, please contact VHCF at (804) 828-5804 .

Policy: VHCF works in partnership with the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, the Virginia Dental Association , the Virginia Health Catalyst, and other key stakeholders to contribute to policy changes that improve access to dental care for children in Virginia, including preparing for the adult dental Medicaid benefit.

Through these and other programs and initiatives, VHCF is helping address the critical need of providing primary dental care to Virginia’s uninsured and underserved.

Virginia’s Safety Net — Progress is Evident, Yet Overwhelming Need Remains in Virginia,” an article in the summer 2019 Virginia Dental Journal, fully details the challenges and gaps in dental access in Virginia.  The article not only describes the current status of access to dental care, or lack thereof, in Virginia, but also gives concise “how to” information for dental providers on how they can help.

Last Updated on July 1, 2021

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