The Oklahoma Dental Foundation began as a vehicle to "carry the proper dental health story to the people of Oklahoma." It's quite fitting that Bert L. Castleberry, founding board member of the ODF, used the term "vehicle" in his speech announcing the Foundation's incorporation, because the Foundation has become, literally, a vehicle for dentistry today as it provides dental education and care throughout the state with mobile dental services.
The ODF was created in 1959 as an outgrowth of the Oklahoma Dental Association. Dentists across the state, consistently throughout 1957, '58 and '59 reflected on the success of the so-called "Polio Drive" as a measure for how Oklahoma might be made aware of the need for increased oral health care. From the Journal of the Oklahoma Dental Association, April 1959:
"…medical science would still be groping in the dark search for victory (over polio), had it not been for the United Support of the Public. What brought about this keen public interest? Was it the mere fact that polio was an extremely ugly and crippling disease that so often struck the children of our country? Of course, the telltale crippling effects of the disease was a psychological factor, but the tactical differential between victory and defeat was the cleaver utilization of great and concentrated 'Fire Power.' The Big Guns, if you please, the ability of the Polio Campaign leaders to win the battle of public acclaim. (What assured victory over polio was)….The ability to inform, persuade, and motivate a great mass of people to champion a common cause. Is there a lesson for dentistry in the polio effort…? Oklahoma Dentistry…must adopt a sustained Dental Health Educational Program that will literally saturate the citizenry of Oklahoma. When this effort becomes a reality, you will have then ethically declared yourselves to be a participant in the fine art of amassing 'FIRE POWER' (for all Oklahoma citizens)."
Now, more than 50 years later, the ODF continues its mission on behalf of the dental health of Oklahomans.
There are three significant issues behind the problem of poor oral health in the state that the ODF has attempted to address:
- access to care (the ability to get to a dentist)
- the belief that oral health is important to one's overall health
To that end, in 2005, the ODF Board made the decision to purchase two 5th wheel trailers, outfitted as dental offices, to remove physical barriers to a prospective patient from receiving care and to provide care a little to no cost. The program provided a blueprint for the more successful program currently operated by the ODF, a Winnebago, completely outfitted with two operatories, allowing multiple dentists to work together.
The ODF now has a partnership with the Delta Dental of Oklahoma Oral Health Foundation and co-manages the operation. We coordinate travel to dozens of counties across the state each year, utilizing an involved site partner who publicizes the Mobile Dental Units (MDU), recruits patients, screens prospective patients, schedules the patient and generally allows the MDU to pull up and begin taking care of patients.
Since its first days, the ODF has fought for oral health education, access to care and research using various means. It has achieved its mission by offering essential dental education and continuing education courses to dental professionals and providing life-changing dental treatment and oral health education to Oklahomans in need.