Fish for Teeth to change structure in providing quality dental care to those who need it

Fish for Teeth, the Friday Harbor-based non-profit that provides dental care for those who could otherwise not afford it, has provided dental services not only to members of the San Juan Island community but has reached residents of San Juan County for the last few years. Since 2021, Fish for Teeth has treated over 1,200 patients over the course of more than 100 clinic days that were spread between San Juan Island, Orcas, and Lopez, according to the Fish for Teeth website. Due to changes in its funding structure, this year the non-profit will return to its original model of providing quality dental service to San Juan Island community members through a fully local volunteer base and new funding sources.

Fish for Teeth has long been serving the community before it grew to provide county-wide coverage. San Juan Island resident and commercial fisherman Matt Marinkovich founded the organization in 2007 after witnessing in person the need for accessible dental care. Marinkovich was at Friday Harbor Elementary School where his children were attending school and was approached by a nine-year-old girl who wanted to show him her mouth full of cavities.

“It was kind of shocking. I went home and talked about it with [my wife] and well, it was something that kind of stuck in my head,” said Marinkovich. “We were like, ‘What’s up with that?’ So we started Fish for Teeth.”

The organization assembled a five-member board of commercial fishermen, dental professionals and community members, including Matt and his wife, Maureen Markinkovich. Matt’s original vision was to utilize any excess fish harvest from his work to make and sell a product that would fund the non-profit. They began selling fish tacos a few times throughout the year to raise money for the cause, relying on local volunteers and organizations to provide support and assistance with the taco sales.

During this period of fundraising, the board of Fish for Teeth learned of Medical Teams International, a 501 c3 charitable organization that operates a mobile dental van throughout major cities in Washington and Oregon. The board saw this as a great opportunity to bring dental care to Friday Harbor, and in January 2012, the Medical Teams International Mobile Dental Van made its first visit to the island, and continued to visit the island a few times a year for three to four-day long clinics. Up until 2020, Fish for Teeth would use the funds raised from fish taco fundraisers and donations to bring the dental van to the island, and relied on local dental professionals and community volunteers to provide the dental services and coordinate scheduling and intake.

In 2021, Fish for Teeth partnered with San Juan County Health and Community Services (HCS) who received three years’ worth of grant funding from a North Sound Oral Health Local Impact Network (LIN) which is funded by the Arcora Foundation, and community partners to provide dental care to clients on Apple Health (Medicaid) or uninsured and unable to afford access to care. The public private partnership including San Juan Island Community Foundation, the San Juan Rotary Club, the Honeywell Foundation, the Orcas Island Community Foundation, Orcas Community Resource Center, and the Lopez Island Family Resource Center expanded dental services to provide 36 days of a Medical Teams International Mobile dental van across San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Island. The dental services included oral health exams, cleanings, X-rays, fillings, tooth extractions, and dentures. Over the 3 years the mobile dental van saw 1,212 patients and delivered $710,285 worth of dental services.

Funding from the original grant has reached its three-year expiration and Fish for Teeth is transitioning into a new model for providing dental care to San Juan Island residents. Kristen Rezabek, Health and Nutrition Program Coordinator for San Juan County, explained that the County has received one more additional year of LIN funding to assist in this transition.

“We will be working with Fish for Teeth and local dental providers on San Juan Island to hold a multi-chair community dental clinic four times a year,” said Rezabek. “On Orcas we are partnering with the Orcas Island Healthcare District, Orcas Island Community Foundation, and Orcas Community Resource Center to set up monthly community dental clinics. The additional year of LIN funding and ongoing community partner support will help start up and support the community dental clinics, as we work towards establishing a Countywide oral health care program.” If you have a dental need and are on Apple Health (Medicaid) or uninsured and unable to afford dental care you can fill out the online application and you will be contacted once scheduling begins.

According to Marinkovich, these dental clinics will take the form of leasing a dental facility on island for the day, with local dental professionals providing care instead of outsourced dentists. Additionally, the non-profit will be utilitzing new revenue sources outside of the fish tacos fundraiser, donations, and community partnerships. These new sources of income include a penny press machine which will be located in front of Friday Harbor Drug, and they will also be collecting Kings receipts, which will donate 1% of each receipt’s total to the organization.

“We’re trying to get some streamlined, steady revenue to help us with what we’re doing. We are definitely in a transitional period…but I think [the new plan] is going to work pretty good,” said Marinkovich.

The first dental clinic under this new structure is set for April 20 and is already fully scheduled with patients who were backlogged from previous clinics. The remaining clinics for this year are already scheduled for June 1, Sept. 20, and Nov. 8, and residents can apply to receive care by visiting Although there is no income requirement, the organization aims to help those who are without dental insurance or those whose insurance is not widely accepted on island, and otherwise struggle to afford dental care and the expenses accrued from off-island travel for dental appointments.

As the Fish for Teeth team begins the transition to a more locally-sourced organization, the Marinkovichs are excited to return to a similar structure of community volunteers and support.

“We are always looking for more volunteers. Having new volunteers brings fresh awareness about what we’re doing and [brings] more people in, there’s more talk on the street and more community involvement,” said Matt.