Madison nonprofit gives homeless, poor desperately needed dental care

Smile! Wisconsin among states that go dentist most

Millions of Americans have gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act, but for the most part the law doesn’t include dental coverage for adults.

Now a nonprofit called the Madison Dental Initiative is trying to get care to the people who need it most.

“If you are poor or of color you have half the access of dental services and twice the rate of untreated needs in your mouth,” said Dr. David Gundersen, a volunteer at Madison Dental Initiative.

Thirty to 40 percent of Dane County residents are without dental coverage, Gundersen said.

That means that more than one-third of people in our area are faced with a choice: pay costly bills out of pocket or sit through the pain. Madison Dental Initiative is trying to bridge the care gap by providing free care for 1,000 of Madison’s poor and homeless every year.

“We do about 80 percent to 90 percent of what a regular dental clinic provides,’ Arron Warren, Madison Dental Initiative’s executive director, said.

The nonprofit is funded through state and county grants and private donations. It does about a half million dollars’ worth of dental work on a less than $150,000 budget.

“So for every dollar we take in it’s over three dollars of care that’s provided,” Warren said.

But even with an efficient budget and a stable of volunteers, Gundersen said they can barely keep up with the need. 

“Madison Dental Initiative is great but I think more than anything else it’s a window into a much bigger problem that needs to get solved,” he said. 

Madison Dental Initiative has been up and running since 2009. It works out of the Salvation Army near down town Madison, and is always looking for more volunteers.

If you want to help go to