Humanitarian Dental Care Thrives in the San Juan Islands

Fish for Teeth t-shirt.

In the picturesque San Juan Islands of Washington state, a remarkable initiative is transforming lives through accessible dental care. Fish for Teeth, a non-profit organization based in Friday Harbor, has been providing essential dental services to those who would otherwise be unable to afford them. Founded in 2007 by commercial fisherman Matt Marinkovich, the organization has grown to become a beacon of hope for the community.

The inspiration for Fish for Teeth came when a nine-year-old girl approached Marinkovich, revealing a mouth full of cavities. Shocked by the child’s poor dental health, Marinkovich and his wife Maureen took action. They assembled a dedicated team of commercial fishermen, dental professionals, and community members to tackle the issue head-on.

Over the years, Fish for Teeth has employed innovative fundraising strategies to support their cause. From selling fish tacos to collecting donations, the organization has relied on the generosity of the community to fund their dental clinics. The introduction of a penny press machine and donations from the local market, Kings (1% of every receipt collected), have further diversified their revenue streams. It receives no government funding.

A volunteer dentist treating a young patient. (Source: Fish for Teeth)

The impact of Fish for Teeth’s work has been profound. Since 2021, the organization has treated over 1,200 patients across San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Islands, delivering more than $710,000 worth of dental services. The clinics have provided a wide range of treatments, including oral health exams, cleanings, X-rays, fillings, tooth extractions, and dentures.

As Fish for Teeth enters a new phase, the organization is transitioning to a more localized model. In partnership with San Juan County Health and Community Services and local dental providers, Fish for Teeth will now hold multi-chair community dental clinics four times a year on San Juan Island. This transition ensures that the organization can continue its mission of providing accessible dental care to those in need.

The success of Fish for Teeth is a testament to the power of community collaboration and the unwavering commitment of volunteers. Local dental professionals generously donate their time and expertise to provide top-quality care, while community members rally together to support the cause through donations and volunteering.

Read more about Fish for Teeth in this article from March 13, 2024 by Isabel Ashley in The Journal of the San Juan Islands: Fish for Teeth to change structure in providing quality dental care to those who need it.

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