Island Health Care, the Vineyard’s only federally qualified health center, is receiving a $500,000 grant from MVYouth to establish a dental clinic in Edgartown that will provide pediatric and adult services to Islanders with financial needs.

Up to half the patients IHC expects to serve at the four-chair clinic, planned for Mariner’s Landing on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, will be under 25 years old.

“It’s a great opportunity to provide both preventive and curative care to a population that needs access to it,” said Dr. James Wolff, chief medical officer for IHC.

“Oral care is incredibly important to health, especially in children,” Dr. Wolff told the Gazette by phone Thursday morning.

“Not having good oral hygiene and dental care is a disaster when you’re old, because you lose your teeth,” he added.

Using census data, IHC has found more than 2,600 children and young adults on the Vineyard whose families are income-eligible for Medicaid and Health Safety Net (HSN) assistance. But no Island dentists accept reimbursement from these programs, IHC chief executive officer Cynthia Mitchell said. And the Vineyard has no practicing pediatric dentists at all, she added.

Ray Ewing

As a federally qualified health center, IHC is eligible for public health reimbursements that are not available to private practitioners. Island Health Care provides primary care services to all, regardless of ability to pay, and works closely with town boards of health on matters of public health. In 2020 and 2021, IHC partnered with Quest Diagnostics to set up drive-through Covid testing.

“This will be a place where the uninsured can receive services,” Ms. Mitchell said, adding that she, Dr. Wolff and IHC chief financial officer Shimmy Mehta are deeply grateful to MVYouth for providing the initial funding. The total budget for the dental clinic is about $1.6 million.

To staff the clinic, IHC is working with the dental school at Boston University, where Mr. Wolff is a professor at the school of public health.

“Through his connection, we have established a partnership,” Ms. Mitchell said.

“They’ve collaborated with us and coached us along the way,” Dr. Wolff said of the dental school administration.

“We have great expectations of having a training program [for] pediatric specialists and dental residents,” he continued. “I think we’re in a great position to provide dental care to a lot of people who don’t have access to it.”

IHC also plans to provide training opportunities — and housing allowances — for young Islanders seeking careers in dental health care, according to a news release from MVYouth executive director Lindsey Scott announcing the grant.

The early funding marks a departure in the eight-year-old foundation’s regular practice, Ms. Scott wrote.

“Normally, MVYouth waits to fund a capital project like this until the organization is seeking the last dollars needed to accomplish the project, but we are investing in the youth serving portion of this project now with great hopes that other generous organizations and individuals will match our support,” she continued.

IHC has already purchased the Mariner’s Landing property for the dental clinic and hopes to open it by the fall of 2023, Ms. Mitchell said. The health center will soon begin fund-raising to expand its primary care clinic at the Edgartown Triangle, she added.

“Overall we are looking for both projects, the dental clinic and expanded primary care, to raise something on the order of $6 million,” Ms. Mitchell said.