Fish for Teeth offers healthy smiles for local community

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY: One nonprofit has found a unique way of bringingdental care to those in need.

Posted: January 30, 2015

Dental care is something a lot of us take for granted, but for many uninsured Americans, a trip to the dentist isn't always affordable. We often think of people avoiding the dentist for fear of a cavity or the scraping sound of sharp tools, but for some, oral health care simply isn't within their budgets. However, a unique organization founded by a commercial fisherman on San Juan Island, Washington, is looking to change that. Fish for Teeth, a nonprofit started by Matt and Maureen Marinkovich, has been using Matt's fishing expertise as a means of helping members of the community find access to free dentistry since 2006.

The organization 
Having been around for almost a decade, Fish for Teeth is run by local fishermen and dentists to ensure those in need can visit the dentist three times each year. Matt Marinkovich decided to create the organization after an encounter with a young girl. She asked Marinkovich if he wanted to see her cavities, then revealed to him a mouth with several teeth that were decaying badly. Realizing that a need was not being met, Marinkovich took action. 

His business model for the nonprofit is a rather interesting one. Marinkovich collects rockfish during the course of his day job, which are often caught during halibut season. The fish are then sent to a co-op in Alaska to be processed and are then used by the Marinkoviches to make fish tacos near their home in Friday Harbor, Washington. According to the San Juan Journal, on days the Marinkoviches open up shop they easily sell over 300 tacos at seven dollars a piece. Over the years, the couple and other volunteers have mastered the craft of making these tacos, and sales are now responsible for the majority of the organization's funding. 

Three times a year, Fish for Teeth uses this money to bring in a mobile dental van to Friday Harbor for two days. The van is equipped with all the tools a dentist's office would have and local dentists volunteer their time. Over the two-day period, volunteers are able to treat around 30 people, providing around $16,000 of free care during each two-day stint, the Journal noted. Dr. Michael Horn, a local volunteer dentist that works with Fish for Teeth, explained to the source:

"The gratitude from the patients is one of the most fulfilling parts of my professional career, I feel like Fish for Teeth is really a win-win. Whenever we finish an event I feel energized and so grateful to be able to help."

Moving forward 
The Marinkoviches seem to have no plans to slow down their philanthropic efforts. According to the organization's website, the couple has found a traditional fishing sailboat that they want to return to service in Bristol Bay. Once the boat is back at sea, Matt will use his fishing expertise to catch and sell his bounty of fish in order to fund another oral health care venture in Alaska. 

More recently in the organization's history, Fish for Teeth has also focused on a complimentary sealant program for second grade students. The sealant is a protective covering placed on permanent back teeth as a measure to prevent long-term tooth decay. While students undergoing this dental procedure must first have their cavities filled, Fish for Teeth is working to help children in need have this procedure covered so they can undergo the sealant program.

Though Fish for Teeth may seem like a rather esoteric undertaking, this model serves as an example for how to provide better oral health care for those in need across the U.S. 

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