Reflecting the rough economy, the clinic treated more than 2,000 patients last year, up nearly 40 percent since 2008. Ruth Kraut, who helps track affordable dental care at the Washtenaw County Department of Public Health, says that Neighbors quickly increased the clinic's visibility when she arrived a year and a half ago, in part by throwing a well-attended thirtieth anniversary party this past spring. "She's really special," says Kraut. Neighbors also championed what may have been the center's first designated day of free care, provided by volunteer U-M dental staff and students; she hopes to expand to three days next year.
Year-round, Neighbors and the center's other staff dentist, Anne Bibik, are backed by volunteer dentists and an ever-changing corps of U-M dentistry and dental hygiene students and Washtenaw Community College dental assistants in training. A patient who just needs a cleaning and checkup might wait three months to get an appointment, but emergencies--a broken crown, a toothache--are handled quickly. (Emergency treatment is funded by grants from various organizations, including the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop and Kiwanis; it's tougher for Neighbors to find funding for routine care.)
Started under the former federal Model Cities program, the clinic is now operated by the U-M School of Dentistry. (The city owns the building, which the dental school leases for a stipend.) Neighbors says that the dental school administration has been "very supportive" while granting her freedom to try new things. The center's budget, which typically runs $500,000-$700,000 a year, is funded by the United Way, patient fees and insurance, public assistance programs, donations, and grants from the dental school.