When HealthLink Dental Clinic opened its Southampton doors in 2001, it had one mission – to provide free care to community members who couldn’t otherwise afford it. In the 20 years that followed, the nonprofit, all-volunteer clinic went above and beyond that mission, with a total of 24,652 qualifying patients in Bucks and Montgomery counties treated at no cost.
“It’s about a sports stadium of people that we’ve been able to serve since we opened, so definitely an accomplishment,” said HealthLink executive director Raquel Braemer.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, HealthLink announced a number of initiatives planned throughout 2021. The clinic kicked off the year by unveiling a brand-new logo, which features fresh, orange lettering to signify the impressive milestone, as well as a tooth.
“We realized that our old logo didn’t yell loud enough what it is that we did,” said Braemer.
Additionally, HealthLink formed a magical partnership with none other than the Tooth Fairy, who will be officially revealed to the public in February. The character, portrayed by an actor, will be featured in a slew of fun and educational videos that parents/families can purchase and personalize to teach children about oral health. PSA campaign videos and photos on social media will also feature HealthLink’s newest friend.
“It can be anything from, they have a dentist appointment coming up and they’re scared, so the Tooth Fairy will talk about that and let them know that it’s not scary,” said Braemer. “Or if a child isn’t brushing enough, there’s a message for that.”
Braemer explained that although HealthLink does not serve children, the Tooth Fairy outreach initiative is aimed at providing dental education to the masses.
“It’s been a tough year and it’s not over yet, so we were looking for ways to lighten up the mood while still getting our message out, and still sharing the information about good oral health and how it’s connected to the rest of your body,” she said.
The latter is something that HealthLink does for its adult patients on a daily basis. According to Braemer, a main goal is empowering them to take better care of not only their oral health, but their overall health.
“We actually do glucose testing, we check their blood pressure when they come in, too. A lot of times, our patients can’t afford to see a doctor. They’re only coming in when there’s problems,” said Braemer. “We’ve had patients come in for toothpaste, but then they find out that they’re at risk for diabetes also.”
Braemer described HealthLink as a “dental home” since all services are provided onsite. Offerings include exams, X-rays, cleanings, extractions and root canals.
“It’s all done here in our clinic so that patients can become comfortable with our staff,” said Braemer. “The dentist is scary enough, so coming to the same place every time, people can get more comfortable, and we get to know the patients better. We’re able to treat them as a whole person, not just their mouths.”
These exciting anniversary celebrations come after months of shifting and pivoting during COVID-19. Though HealthLink was closed for four months because of state restrictions, Braemer said patients can feel comfortable returning. New equipment and PPE have been purchased.
“At least in my opinion, our dental clinic is the safest place that you can be during the pandemic with all of our HEPA filters,” she stressed. “We have an extra oral suction machine, we don’t let people sit in the waiting room.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, 2020 also saw HealthLink’s first-ever virtual fundraising event, which significantly helped the financing of its operations.
“We are funded entirely by charitable contributions. People hear the word ‘clinic’ and sometimes they have an idea of what that is, and we might not fit into that mold,” said Braemer. “We don’t receive federal or state funding, so we’re not run by any government agency. We’re not part of any of the hospitals or healthcare systems in the area. We’re standalone and we don’t accept insurance, so we don’t get insurance reimbursement. Truly, our patients receive the care for free.”
HealthLink continues to accept new patients who are low-income, working adults and military veterans who live in Bucks and Montgomery counties. To qualify, patients must not have dental insurance, be employed (or have a spouse employed or be a military veteran) and have a household income at or below 250 percent of the Poverty Guidelines. An exception was made recently to accept patients who were employed in February 2020 but lost their job due to the pandemic. They must meet all other requirements.
Applications can be submitted online at healthlinkdental.org, by fax or mail. Once qualified, an appointment can be scheduled within a few weeks.
Volunteer dentists, dental hygienists and event planners are also welcomed. Call 215-364-4247 and follow on Facebook @HealthLink1 for more information. HealthLink Dental Clinic is located at 1775 Street Road, Southampton.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com