Bill Milner, D.D.S., is recipient of 2023 ADA Humanitarian Award – American Dental Association

by David Burger
January 09, 2023
by David Burger
January 09, 2023
Founding model

“We at Access Dental Care are humbled and excited to represent dentistry’s new emerging field of comprehensive, quality care for a variety of community special care patients,” Dr. Milner said, sharing the award with his nonprofit Access Dental Care. “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.”

The mission, said Dr. Milner, “has always been to serve folks who have difficulty getting services.”

Dr. Milner received his dental degree from the Baylor College of Dentistry in 1975 and his master’s in public health administration from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health in 1984. 

He spent the first 25 years of his career providing clinical care to children and working with North Carolina communities to create dental clinical programs through the North Carolina Department of Human Services’ Oral Health Section and the Randolph County Health Department.

Dr. Milner was satisfied and proud of his work, but over the years he saw that children weren’t the only ones having to hurdle obstacles in accessing dental care.

“In 1979 I toured a variety of nursing home models in England,” he said. “There were even private practitioners going to patients’ homes doing dentures. Seeing this outreach care made me realize that this service could be done here.”

He continued: “I was lucky. While caring for children, I was given time to start a North Carolina Dental Society Committee on Aging. Our meetings began to focus on how to build a service model for care of the elderly and those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The Society took a leading role in supporting this effort.”

At the time, Dr. Milner remembered something he had heard when he was a student.

“Back in dental school, I wanted to be a ‘barefoot dentist,’ patterned after the ‘barefoot doctors’ they have in China,” he said. “‘Barefoot doctors’ are those who would walk from village to village in China, taking medical services to those in outlying areas. The idea is that you go out and open doors. Half of my brain is dentistry and half of it is public health. It’s all about opening doors and serving folks who need services where they need them.”

In the 1990s. Dr. Milner worked with Michael Helgeson, D.D.S., who started Apple Tree Dental in Minnesota, to create a program that would work in North Carolina. They started with a 1997 pilot headed by Ford Grant, D.M.D., at Carolinas HealthCare in Charlotte.

In 2000, he created Access Dental Care, which provides onsite, comprehensive dental care for those in nursing homes, group home day centers,
Access Dental Care now serves 150 facilities in almost half of North Carolina’s counties, as well as runs a fixed special care clinic in Asheboro. ADC dentists also provide operating room care at University Hospital in Charlotte, Randolph Hospital in Asheboro, Cone Hospital in Greensboro, WakeMed in Raleigh and ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville. 
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