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Orthodontists pilot charitable access program, eye nationwide expansion

April 23, 2012

By Karen Fox, ADA News staff

St. Louis—Inspired by the work of Donated Dental Services, the American Association of Orthodontists set out to create a charitable access program for children in need of orthodontic care.

Today, with a successful pilot program behind them and a plan for growth in place, the association is eyeing ways to take Donated Orthodontic Services nationwide.

Dr. George

AAO began Donated Orthodontic Services in 2009 with the mission to serve children without insurance coverage or those who do not qualify for other forms of assistance. A pilot program was launched in five states—Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey and Rhode Island—and volunteer orthodontists were sought to provide care.

“The response from members was phenomenal, which is not a surprise,” said orthodontist Dr. Raymond George Sr., a member of the AAO Access to Care Task Force and a past president whom the association calls the visionary behind the Donated Orthodontic Services program. In the five states, 266 volunteer orthodontists signed up to provide care; 262 children from low-income families registered for treatment; and to date, 170 children have been placed with volunteer orthodontists. Since 2009, five patients have completed treatment.

“Orthodontists are looking for a program like this,” said Dr. George. “I’ve never met an orthodontist who doesn’t do pro bono work. They are more than willing to share what they can do to help the needy.”

The program’s success hinges on a partnership with Dental Lifeline Network, formerly the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped, which administers the program. DLN coordinators also prescreen patients to assess financial needs and project levels of compliance with orthodontic treatment.

States in the pilot program set their own criteria for acceptance, said Dr. Nicholas D. Barone, a Rhode Island orthodontist and chair of AAO access task force. Patients have to demonstrate a compelling financial need—usually about 200 percent of the federal poverty level—and pay a fee of $200 for care. The money is for coordination of care only; the orthodontist donates his/her services.

Donated services: Dr. Nicholas Barone (right) begins a new case with patient Juan Perez.

“It’s always nice to help people out,” said Dr. Barone, who just began treating his second patient as part of the program. “You take a lot of personal satisfaction in giving someone a new smile and new outlook on life, especially someone who wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity otherwise.”

Patients in some states encountered longer waiting lists for care but there was no wait in Dr. Barone’s state. “We also ask volunteers to start one new patient a year as opposed to 'one and done.’ That’s to ensure ongoing involvement in support of the community. Members have been very receptive to this.”

“With the help of the Dental Lifeline Network, and their 25 years of experience with the DDS program, our DOS program in New Jersey is practical, economical and very successful,” said Dr. Barry Raphael, chair of the New Jersey Donated Orthodontic Services Committee. “It is an easy program to run and should be available in any state that wants to help bridge the needs gap.”

The next step in the program’s evolution is to get it up and running in the remaining 45 states, said Dr. George. “We will bring states in gradually; not all at once, but we are continuing the program and increasing the number of orthodontists who participate. We hope to take it national by asking vendors and manufacturers to support startup costs.”

A business plan has been developed. More information can be found at