Something to Smile About

A local organization brings dental care to those in need

Dedra Twomey can tell you lots of stories about people in desperate need of dental care — people like the young teen who had been in so much pain from abscessed teeth that she had hardly eaten or slept in months, like the man whose infected gums caused his face to swell so badly he couldn’t swallow, like the 91-year-old veteran who was emaciated because his dentures were broken and he couldn’t eat. 

Fortunately for them, and thousands of others in New Hampshire, there is the Greater Nashua Dental Connection (GNDC). For the last 17 years, it has provided affordable, comprehensive oral care to those in need throughout the state.

“There’s a huge need that’s not being met, whether because of a lack of affordability or a lack of awareness,” says Twomey, who is the GNDC’s executive director. “We take pride in the fact that we never turn people away.”

The GNDC provides care to a diverse population that includes low-income, under- or uninsured children and adults, veterans, refugees, the elderly, prenatal, disabled, mentally ill and HIV/AIDS patients.

To accommodate their care, the GNDC has a centrally located clinic at 31 Cross St. in Nashua. There, a small staff of dentists, hygienists and dental assistants do cleanings and exams, sealants and fluoride treatments, fillings and X-rays, simple extractions and dentures and denture care. Last year at the clinic, there were more than 4,000 appointments for dental care.

The GNDC’s work is financially supported by corporations and community organizations, among them, St. Joseph Hospital, Northeast Delta Dental and United Way of Greater Nashua.

“Dental care is the hardest health care to get if you’re poor,” says Mike Apfelberg, president of United Way, which recently donated $20,000 to GNDC. “Even people who are insured often are not covered for dental. It’s a critical missing piece in the whole health care scenario.”

One of the main challenges for GNDC is to educate people about the connection between oral health and overall health. “We have to make people aware of what happens when they don’t take care of their teeth,” says Twomey.

Infection is the main concern; it’s something that, at worst, can cause death. Short of that, research shows a link between poor dental care and disease, especially if someone has a compromised immune system. Twomey says being infection-free is critical for people who need heart surgery or chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

To get young people to understand the importance of dental care, the GNDC extends its reach into the schools. Children in 18 Nashua schools are transported to the clinic for oral health care, and dental health education is provided in the classroom. “It’s essential to teach young people about dental health care,” says Twomey. “The younger you get to them, the better.”

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Categories: Features