The Hand Up Dental Program gives survivors of domestic violence a reason to smile.
The dental services offered by the Hand Up Dental Program may be routine, but the program’s overreaching mission is nothing short of life changing.
“Our goal is to offer survivors of domestic violence assistance with their dental needs to help give them the self-confidence needed to change their situations, and in turn, change their lives, thus giving them a reason to smile,” says Chris Tullos, adult dental director of the Florida Department of Health Brevard County.
The clinic came to fruition last year when the Florida Department of Health Brevard County was awarded a generous grant from the Shirley E. Noland Foundation to expand its existing Adult Dental Program to include a program strictly for survivors of domestic violence. Along with Space Coast Volunteers in Medicine (SCVIM), the three entities have combined strengths to provide dental services to low-income domestic violence survivors who don’t have any other access to dental care.
“I found the existing programs would address emergency issues, but not the lifelong impact that comes from either neglect or trauma associated with the cycle of violence in personal relationships,” says Debra Verzi, president of the Shirley E. Noland Foundation with regard to the need for the program. The Shirley E. Noland Foundation focuses on pancreatic cancer research, battered women, abused and neglected children and animals in no-kill environments, helping to further existing programs to support these causes, or develop new programs where none exist.
While the foundation provided the critical funding need, patient services are carried out through the combined efforts of SCVIM and the Florida Department of Health Brevard County.
Essentially, SCVIM offers cleanings, oral hygiene instruction and education. “We provide basic dental services, as well as emphasize prevention and education,” says Paul Ringenberger, executive director of SCVIM. “Patients coming to us from the health department, or patients referred to us by shelters or similar entities, will receive priority service whenever possible.”
The Florida Department of Health Brevard County, meanwhile, provides treatments including examinations, X-rays, diagnosis, cleanings, fillings and extractions, as well as tooth placement on a case-by-case basis.
Ringenberger notes that SCVIM refers inquiries to the Florida Department of Health Brevard County for intake.
As a volunteer organization, SCVIM relies on volunteer dentists, hygienists and assistants, while the Florida Department of Health Brevard County retains a dental staff.
“It has been documented that so many patients who haven’t seen a dentist in years also haven’t seen a (general) doctor — and may have other health issues,” says Ringenberger. That said, before patients of SCVIM are treated for dental issues, they first undergo a comprehensive medical exam.
SCVIM is also in the process of developing instructional videos that will be used in conjunction with an educational program focused on proper hygiene and disease prevention to be presented at shelters, social services agencies and more.
Patients must be referred to the Hand Up Dental Program by a professional, such as a police officer, health care professional or advocate. For more information on the services provided by the Florida Department of Health Brevard County, call Chris Tullos at (321) 383-2784. For more information on the dental services provided by SCVIM, call Irene Theriault at 321 914-0915.
Friends of SCVIM
1. To serve as goodwill ambassadors for the SCVIM clinic that provides free medical, dental and chiropractic care to the uninsured of Brevard County.
2. To facilitate speaking engagements for executive staff and to enhance public relations.
3. To coordinate and produce the clinic’s annual fund raising gala.
“SCVIM is pleased that Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, incoming president of the Brevard County Medical Society (BCMS), will serve as honorary chairperson of Friends of SCVIM,” says Paul Ringenberger, executive director of SCVIM. “Dr. Haridopolos is a great person, very sincere and believes in our program.”