Despite Shaky Finances, Children’s Dental Clinic Re-Opens

The clinic, which provided basic dental services to 1,500 low-income students last year, is run by the Multnomah Dental Society
September 20, 2010 -- After a summer hiatus, the Creston Children’s Dental Clinic celebrated a grand reopening ceremony on Sept. 13, but its finances still remain shaky.
“We're looking at keeping our head above water,” said Dr. Kurt Ferre, executive director, who has enough money to keep the clinic open until Christmas.
The clinic provided free dental care to 1,500 low-income Portland Public School students last year -- extractions, cavity fillings and root canals (the clinic does not provide cosmetic dentistry, crowns or bridges). It’s housed at Creston Elementary School, located in southeast Portland.
Andy Kellough is convinced the clinic’s services changed his life. Growing up without access to dental care, many of his front teeth had chipped, with one tooth becoming infected and causing so much pain he had trouble sleeping. Kellough also became depressed and had poor self esteem. 
In April, dentists pulled one tooth, filled cavities in many of his other teeth and did restorative work on his front teeth. The results, he said, were "life changing." The clinic scheduled back to back appointments so he could be treated quickly. "They were very caring,” he said. "I had no idea what I was going to do to get them fixed. I’m forever thankful." 
The Multnomah Dental Society, of which Ferre serves as board president, assumed control in February after the Assistance League of Portland, which had operated the clinic since its inception in 1961, could no longer afford to keep it open.   
Now Ferre and a committed group of dentists are injecting new ideas and changing the clinic’s organizational structure as well as raising funds. About 20 dentists and 10 hygienists volunteer at the clinic, while its $170,000 operational budget covers dental supplies, equipment maintenance, and the salaries of three administrative positions—a full-time office manager, a grants writer and a dental assistant. Paying for such positions, Ferre said, is critical to fundraising and preventing administrative problems.
Recruiting and maintaining a reliable core of dentists has become a priority, Ferre said. “It takes a lot of work to maintain a viable pool of volunteers.”  
Currently the clinic is only open during the school year, but Ferre hopes to raise an additional $80,000 to keep it open year round. 
Funding comes from individual and in-kind donations, as well as foundation grants such as the Kaiser Foundation, the Ackley Family Foundation and the Dental Foundation of Oregon. No funding is received from federal, state or local governments. Ferre expects to receive non-profit status from the IRS within the next few months. He’s also working with Medicaid officials so the clinic can become certified, which would increase its revenue stream.  

If you’d like to donate money or other services to the Creston Children’s Dental Clinic, email [email protected] or check the clinic’s website –


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The dedicated dental care providers, and others keeping this service in operation, deserve the highest praise from all of us. Dental primary care is one of the most difficult areas for access by poor people and even some not so poor. This dedication is in contrast to the avoidance of the issues by some insurers in our market, who prefer not to offer children policies rather than figure out how to deal with the admittedly challenging transitional issues between now, and the 2014 individual mandate under health reform. Providers and insurers who stick it out, and do their part to create access to care for children, all deserve our praise and our support with paying referrals and patronage when we can choose them.