Dental Concerns for Low-Income Community Members Are Diminishing Thanks to Olympia Union Gospel Mission’s No-fee Dental Clinic


Anyone who has experienced dental pain and the health concerns that come with it knows that it’s both overwhelming and exhausting, and for many, help may feel out of reach. Luckily for Thurston County, the Olympia Union Gospel Mission (OUGM) has found a way to assist those most in need by providing a No-Fee Dental Clinic.

The OUGM began working with the homeless and needy in 1995 through a street ministry outreach. Simple, small gestures such as a meal and hot drinks were provided in an atmosphere of love and acceptance with the goal in mind of sharing God’s love in practical ways. Today, OUGM still operates with the same mindset that shines through their many services that include men’s and women’s recovery programs, laundry and shower services, clothing bank, an overnight shelter, hot meal services , and a Vision Clinic as well as their Dental Clinic.

A room with a sorts of dental equipment in it
State-of-the-art equipment is available for patients to receive their needed dental care at the Olympia Union Gospel Mission’s Dental Clinic.

No-Fee Dental Clinic in Thurston County

Since 2003, the OUGM’s Dental Clinic has been serving low-income patients, by eliminating their dental pain, returning their hope and confidence while opening the door for the gospel message. Funded by generous donations from churches, individuals, local dentists, local businesses and foundation grants, the Dental Clinic can provide dental care completely free of cost to the patient, because the dental professionals donate their time and services. What started as a mobile dental van in 2000 with four volunteers became too small for the growing need. In 2003 the first dental clinic was constructed in the Mission’s building on Franklin Street.

As the years progressed and word spread of their kindness, OUGM outgrew that space and in 2016 constructed a larger more modern clinic in a newly purchased building on Washington Street. The new clinic was designed and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that can be found in dental facilities around the country. “This new facility has helped improve our processes dramatically,” shares Shelley Case, Dental Clinic manager. “The new equipment not only has helped expand our services to include all the regular procedures and surgeries, but also has helped with time management allowing us to see more patients on a day-to-day basis. It’s really incredible that the Dental Clinic is run completely by donations, meaning we’re able to see these patients entirely from the generosity of the public.”

Today, the Dental Clinic is staffed by over 20 volunteer dental professionals from around the Thurston and Pierce County counties. Annually, the clinic has 1,500 patient visits. The value of the work contributed by the volunteers is $353,000 annually. Not only do most of these professional’s work their day jobs, but many also come in regularly to volunteer their time. “All of our volunteers know that they didn’t get where they are without hard work but also recognize the blessings in their life and their talent,” expresses Skip Steffen, Olympia Union Gospel Mission Executive Director. “Most feel compelled to give back in some form, and we’re happy to provide that place for them.”

Person having his teeth looked at by a dentist
The Olympia Union Gospel Mission’s No-Fee Dental Clinic provides service to low-income individuals in Thurston County. Photo courtesy: Olympia Union Gospel Mission

No-Fee Dental Clinic Open to All

The patients that are seen at the Dental Clinic vary from working, single moms or dads with a horrible tooth ache and no money for dental care, to those awaiting organ transplants who need a dental clearance to get on the transplant list. Additionally, Shelley mentions how the Clinic now assists over 60 senior patients with diabetes. “Poor oral health care can make it harder to control diabetes,” explains Shelley, “but with proper care and management, we’re helping improve their overall health and management of their diabetes.”

As the Dental Clinic has changed countless lives for the better, heartwarming stories continue to emerge. “We often see patients wanting to provide what they can for the services they receive,” states Shelley. “All of us were incredibly touched with a patient who reached into their wallet while in the chair and tried to offer their last $5.” Skip goes on to agree that the Dental Clinic is a powerful place where so many individuals have regained confidence with the return of their smile and feel empowered to apply for a job, graduate a treatment program and regain their place in society.

Olympia Union Gospel Mission Dental Benefit Show

With the OUGM Dental Clinic providing $353,000 worth of services to the community each year, it’s incredible that the direct operating costs are only $130,000. While much of this is gathered from donations, half of the operating costs are raised through their annual Dental Benefit Show. The popular event, founded in 2005, brings together talented dentists and other volunteer performers of all ages and backgrounds to put on a musical variety show. The spectacular show also stars Debbi’s Dance Etc. and is led by the esteemed 18-member Olympia Jazz Senators.

Dental Benefit Show is put on at the Washington Center for the Performing Art with dentists singing on stage
Each year the Dental Benefit Show is put on at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Olympia to benefit the Olympia Union Gospel Mission. Photo courtesy: Olympia Union Gospel Mission

The 2023 Dental Benefit Show – The Greatest Show Tunes will take place on May 20 as it hits the Washington Center for the Performing Arts stage in downtown Olympia. Audience members will be dazzled with an over-the-top performance of some of the best and most iconic songs from musicals and movies over the years, with an emphasis on Disney animated films.

Since the opening of the No-Fee Dental Clinic over 20 years ago, Shelley and Skip are both grateful to be a partner in the community. “The gratitude of the patients is incredible,” expresses Shelley. “It’s an amazing thing to be a part of as we watch people come into the office in pain and worried about the future, to leaving with a smile on their face. The dental community has welcomed us with open arms, and we hope to keep the Clinic going for many more years.”

“Overall,” states Skip, “what gets me up in the morning is knowing, that in some small way, I can make somebody’s life a little bit better. In the dental field, it’s an absolute pleasure to work with the OUGM staff and volunteers. We’re all blessed to work with people who otherwise might not get the care they desperately need as we do God’s work and intervene in their lives in a very positive way.”

Learn more about Dental Clinic and all the services including meals, recovery, vision care and so much more at the Olympia Union Gospel Mission website.


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