Milner awarded one of ADA’s highest honors
Dr. Bill Milner of Asheboro, North Carolina, received the 2023 American Dental Association Humanitarian Award for spending more than 48 years prioritizing oral health equity for patients who are medically, intellectually and physically disabled.
Milner, who graduated in 1975 from what was then Baylor College of Dentistry, was honored Oct. 7 at ADA SmileCon in Orlando, Florida.
“I was surprised when I first learned about it,” he said, “but gratified that there was acknowledgement by the ADA, bestowing credit on our program and creating more opportunities for conversations about special care dentistry.”
In 2000, Milner founded Access Dental Care, a nonprofit, mobile provider serving residents in 60 North Carolina counties. Patients include residents of retirement communities, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in nursing homes and group homes, those in the state’s HIV/AIDS program and homebound residents in the community at-large.
“I kept looking at our community and realizing that while all of my friends in private practice were doing really good work, certain populations were inadvertently excluded from treatment,” he said. “There is a routine to dentistry – a brick and mortar element – but not everyone fits into that routine.”
To better understand the needs of this underserved population, Milner started by dedicating one day a week to a mobile practice.
“I treated patients at the health department four days a week, and on Fridays, I served nursing homes and group homes,” he said. “Betsy White, our longtime hygienist, and a dental assistant from the health department would go with me, and my wife, Susan, would enter Medicaid billing on Saturday morning. I got my local dental society to contribute $5,000 worth of portable equipment, which we loaded in the trunk of my car and away we went.”
By starting with one day a week, Milner fine-tuned the business model so he could start a larger program down the road. He and his staff have now treated more than 25,000 patients, including 2,000 with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Medicaid, Medicare Advantage Plans and special long-term care insurance programs fund 80 percent of the nursing home patients’ care while Medicaid takes care of almost all the group home patients.
“When you think about these folks with disabilities and their families caring for them, it makes our life seem very simple, compared to all the issues they have,” he said. “About the time we feel like our lives are tough, you realize it doesn’t even compare to what they’re going through. It makes us more motivated to help.”
Milner has served as president of the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry and Special Care Advocates in Dentistry and acted as a representative for the ADA’s Joint Commission. He has previously served as the president of the Randolph County Dental Society in North Carolina and is an active member of the North Carolina Dental Society’s Council on Prevention and Oral Health.
The ADA Humanitarian Award is presented annually to an ADA member for creating a legacy of volunteer works, significantly improving the quality of life and oral health of individuals, demonstrating significant leadership and serving as an inspiration to others both in the dental profession and the general population. The award includes $10,000 given to the dental charity or project of the recipient’s choice.
“Special care has come a long way through the years, and the light bulb has finally clicked on with the emergence of a rapidly aging population and deinstitutionalization of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” he said. “The mission has always been to serve folks who have difficulty getting services.”