New River Valley Adult Dental Care Day leaves patients smiling
Dentist offices are rarely listed among local hot spots, but on Friday, for many community members around the New River Valley the venues were a much desired and long-awaited destination.
“I started crying, that’s how happy I was,” Amanda Williams said of learning she would be seen by a dentist.
The 22-year-old said she hadn’t seen a dentist in close to eight years and that for at least four years she had been in extreme pain.
Williams was able to have many of those painful teeth extracted Friday as part of the New River Valley’s first-ever Free Adult Dental Care Day, the combined effort of the Dental Aid Partners of the New River Valley, the New River Valley Dental Study Club and the Family Dental Clinic of the New River Valley.
DAPNRV President Joe Thompson said that during the one-day effort the group of more than 120 dentists and staff hoped to see up to 300 patients and perform close to $250,000 worth of services in the Christiansburg clinic and 17 individual dentist offices throughout Montgomery, Giles, Floyd and Pulaski counties, and the city of Radford.
Thompson said the idea for the event stemmed from an American Dental Association article describing a similar effort in Vermont that Dr. Dell Armour, also a DAPNRV board member, showed him in June 2011.
“I thought, that is exactly what needs to happen in this area,” Thompson said.
Armour, who is also a member of the study club, presented the idea to the club as a potential service project, where it was quickly embraced by dentists willing to host patients in their offices, Thompson said.
The DAPNRV also partnered with the Family Dental Clinic of the New River Valley, offering services to patients on their dental work waiting list, many of whom had been waiting for treatment six months or longer, according to the clinic’s communications specialist Madison Stephens.
Virginia is no stranger to dentists who donate their time and services. The Mission of Mercy free dental clinic in Roanoke treated 829 patients in March and has treated more than 4,000 in five projects, manager Alison Jorgensen wrote in an email.
While the number of patients served by the MOM clinic may be larger, Terry Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association, said he believed that the Free Adult Dental Care Day is the first time in the state’s history that such an effort has also included the use of the individual dentists’ facilities rather than one centralized location.
Thompson said that because there is no facilities cost, the entire event is being held for $2,700, which includes breakfast, lunch and a shirt for each volunteer.
Jorgensen said the 2012 MOM clinic in Roanoke had a cash outlay of just over $87,000.
Dickinson said he believes facilitating the event at individual offices not only saves money, but also greatly enhances the process because dentists can use their own tools and staff.
“It’s much more efficient and precise to do it in a place where you know where everything is,” Dickinson said.
Dr. Glenn Young, who saw patients at his Radford office, couldn’t have agreed more.
“When you’re in your own kitchen working, so to speak, you can be much more productive,” Young said.
Likewise, Young’s dental partner, Dr. John Hilton, said that because he is left-handed, equipment set up in generic offices is typically set up backwards from the way he uses it. He said simply being set up on the patient’s left side streamlined the entire process.
Having their own equipment wasn’t the only aspect that made Friday’s project productive. Both dentists agreed that they also greatly benefited from having the patients’ records on hand prior to their visit.
Because each patient was already on the Family Dental Clinic of the New River Valley’s waiting list, each came prepared with X-rays and a plan for dental services, Stephens said.
Though the in-house care has its benefits, Young was careful to point out that it doesn’t come without cost.
He said that navigating the logistics of the patients’ transportation, as well as their records, in such a project was very time consuming and credited Margo Thompson, Joe Thompson’s wife and a fellow DAPNRV board member, and the other DAPNRV members with doing a wonderful job in that area.
Margo Thompson admitted she had her hands full managing the records. She said the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Montgomery County and Radford had taken on the task of transporting Friday’s patients, as well as the food for the volunteers.
She added that the group had even been able to make special arrangements to transport one patient who uses a wheelchair to an office to receive treatment.
Though it took much planning and many moving parts to hold Friday’s event, the benefits of such a program were very clear to patient Charlie Melton, who traveled from Galax to Radford for treatment.
Melton stepped into a dentist office for the first time in 10 years Friday to get a cavity filled. The 32-year-old said that in the past he had been on a waiting list but hadn’t made it in time to save his tooth, resulting in a painful infection and the tooth’s removal.
He said he believed Friday prevented him from having to relive that experience.
“I’m just excited because I don’t want to have no teeth pulled,” Melton said.
Like Melton, Williams said she, too, would have been left to suffer without the event.
“I would rather walk around toothless than be in the pain that I’ve been in every day,” Williams said. “I really do feel blessed.”