Most everyone at some point in their lifetime has experienced some type of a problem with either their teeth or gums and possibly both at the same time. Dental care can be both expensive and difficult to find for those without a regular dentist or dental insurance. In the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment released by the Carilion NRV Medical Center, area residents identified adult dental care as “the most difficult service to get in the community.” As a result, well over one fourth of NRV residents reported that they do not go to a dentist for regular care and more than half have not visited a dentist within the last year.
The Surgeon General of the United States has indicated in a report on Oral Health in America that clear links exist between oral infections and other health issues including diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy difficulties, clogged arteries, and blood clots. People with gum disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and about three times more likely to suffer a stroke.
As more is learned about the connections between good dental health and good overall health, the need for increased dental care has become a major health concern in Pulaski County, the New River Valley and beyond.
The Free Clinic of Pulaski has, for many years, referred its patients to the dental clinic in Christiansburg, but as the demand increases then so does the wait time for patients to be seen. People with dental emergencies are left with few, if any, options to be treated locally. The Board of Directors of the Free Clinic at its December 2017 meeting decided to pursue ways in which the clinic could facilitate treatment for patients with dental emergencies. A restricted fund was created by the board to address this situation and has since been augmented by a generous private donor. Dr. Rick Mansell volunteered to establish the framework for this new board initiative. Dr. Mansell and wife Dr. Carole Pratt both have retired from the practice of dentistry but are not strangers to donating their time and skills to helping many people across Virginia receive much needed care. Rick is the immediate past president of the clinic board where he has given many years of service.
By personally visiting nine practicing dentists in Pulaski County and discussing the need for emergency care, Dr. Mansell was able to receive commitments from all nine to see patients on a rotating basis. Practitioners at the clinic will make referrals for their patients when the need to do so is identified. Mrs. Vickie Jones, LPN will coordinate connecting patients with participating dentists in order to ensure an even distribution of cases. Initially, each of the nine dentists will see two patients per month which can provide up to eighteen individuals with emergency dental care which has not previously been available. One hundred dollars per patient will be allocated from the board’s restricted fund to defer the costs incurred by the dentists. Patients will be asked to make a “deposit” of $20 when their appointment is made as an incentive to follow through with their visit to the dentist. Once an individual has kept their appointment, then the $20 will be returned to them. If transportation is a problem for any patient, the clinic, with the cooperation of the Pulaski Area Transit system, will cover the costs of traveling to and from appointments. After emergency situations are addressed, patients can then be referred to the Federally Qualified Health Care Facility in Christiansburg for long term dental care. The FQHCF has recently opened a satellite office in Dublin but dental services are not yet available. A grant has been applied for to establish a dental clinic in Dublin and the Free Clinic Board of Directors has given its support to the proposal. Both programs, even when fully operational, will not meet all of the dental care needs of the residents of Pulaski County who do not have a family dentist but these are steps in a positive direction.
Uninsured adults in Pulaski County between the ages of 18 and 64 that are not currently patients should call Pulaski Free Clinic at 540-980-0922 and set up an appointment for eligibility screening. Individuals must be patients of the free clinic to participate in the dental initiative as outlined. Persons with or without insurance can contact the Federally Qualified Health Care Facility for an appointment to discuss their health care needs and make arrangements for payment on a “sliding scale.”
Special to The Patriot by Jim Kelly, President BOD Free Clinic of Pulaski County