Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
October 25, 2022
Lynda Ricketson | Dental Lifeline Network
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Lynda Ricketson and I am the president and CEO of Dental Lifeline Network, which we affectionately call DLN. It’s a national humanitarian organization dedicated to providing comprehensive oral health treatment for individuals who are disabled, elderly, or medically-fragile and have no other options. This program called donated dental services started in 1985. Since that time we have facilitated more than $520 million in donated dental treatment to more than 166,000 individuals. We do this through a robust network of about 15,000 volunteer dentists and 3,400 volunteer labs.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I actually began my career in the hospitality industry working in sales and marketing for a five-star hotel company. During my time there, I learned exceptional customer service and also had the realization that I needed a career that made a difference in the world. I had that moment where I realized that for me it was a hollow endeavor to work in hospitality. Then the universe provided and I accepted a position with the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, a foundation dedicated to serving women in our community. Not only did the mission speak to me, but I was also exposed to these amazing, powerful, mission-driven women who were dedicating their lives to making the world a better place for other women. That was my gateway to spending 30 years in the nonprofit sector primarily in community foundations doing both fundraising and grantmaking, but also for the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. I’m just incredibly grateful for those women and for the many mentors I’ve had throughout my career. I stay connected to all of them and they all have helped prime me for leadership of Dental Lifeline Network.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I feel if you were to look up altruism in the dictionary, it’s the embodiment of why I’ve spent the majority of my career helping others. Research has shown that the brain experiences a “helper’s high” when people are giving their time, talent, testimony, or treasure. Giving stimulates the reward center of the brain and mesolimbic pathway. I’ve been really fortunate to have had the opportunity to feel that myself, both as someone who is committed to the nonprofit sector and gives her time and treasure, but also by exposing others to the gift of giving back and now with Dental Lifeline Network we are the connectors helping patients in need with the dentist and labs willing to generously volunteer their time to help people in dire need.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
A lot of people would define impact as those numbers I shared earlier, facilitating more than $520 million in donated dental treatment to more than 166,000 individuals. However, the individuals who come to Dental Lifeline Network for care are experiencing excruciating pain or may have an inability to eat and self-esteem issues associated with the condition of their dental health. Dental health is one of the greatest unmet health needs in our country. Poor oral health can lead to other life-threatening diseases. DLN restores oral health and allows people to smile again. As a real impact for me, every day we receive cards from patients thanking us for helping them to smile again, to eat again, and to improve their lives. They’re just lovely. We print them and paste them all around our workstations. It just really helps us to remember why we do what we do.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
During my time as a grantmaker, I was what they called the “-entel” person. I reviewed proposals in the area of oral health and mental health. During that time, I learned a lot about the connection between oral health and overall health. The mouth is literally the gateway to the body and without a healthy mouth, people face challenges in maintaining their physical health. Many chronic conditions are linked to poor oral health, including but not limited to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, immune system disorders, and stroke. They’re finding now that people who have poor oral health and COVID experience worse outcomes, particularly with periodontal disease. All of these conditions can be better managed when oral health problems are treated. There is a pretty vast disparity and lack of access to dental care and that reality really inspired me to learn more about oral health and to try to make a difference for all the individuals suffering. I’m also inspired every day by the donors and volunteers. The dentists who volunteer their time are extraordinary. Their gift of time and resources is what makes it possible for us and other nonprofits to do our work. I’m just so inspired by my colleagues in the nonprofit world who show up every day with the goal of making life better for others.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
It’s common for people in nonprofits to endeavor to put themselves out of business. I really do hope to see better integration of medical and dental care resulting in overall wellness. I would also love for all people to be educated about the importance of oral health and have access to care. The reality is that we’re nowhere near that and our work needs to continue. Currently, we have more than 7,000 people on our waiting list. While we strive to eliminate the need for our services, we work every day to provide that comprehensive dental care to as many people as we can. That is just core for everybody in the office all the time – how many more can we serve?
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The reality is that private practice dentists are retiring or selling their practices. While many more are entering the profession, they often leave dental school strapped with debt, and so they begin their careers as dentists, rather than dentists and business owners. This has contributed to the emergence of dental service organizations, sort of umbrella groups like franchises. They offer these newly minted dentists an opportunity to practice dentistry without having to deal with personnel issues, payroll, or billing, and also the investment of capital into opening their own practice. The structure of this new model is great for newer dentists, but it makes it more difficult for us to connect with the individual dentists to ask them to volunteer to take one or two patients a year. The cases that we take on are pretty significant. The average is about $4,500 worth of treatment.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Aside from the types of patients that we serve, I would say that the care our dentists provide is really not only life-changing, but in a lot of cases, it’s life-saving. We just couldn’t help patients if it weren’t for the extraordinary generosity of the dentist and labs, and also the incredible monetary contributions of donors across the country.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
The one that really drives me is one that I read almost every morning. It’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on success. I hone in on the part that says, ”to leave the world a bit better… and to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Please consider supporting Dental Lifeline Network. If someone reading this is a dentist or works at a lab, I would hope that they could consider volunteering. Or consider asking their dentist to become a volunteer and spread the word about the great work that we’re doing. If people can provide a financial contribution, every single dollar donated unlocks an additional $8 and donated dental treatment. It’s got a huge multiplier. You may learn more and donate at dentallifeline.org.
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