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Dental Clinic Helped Hundreds Receive Crucial Care

Dental Clinic

Sara Quandt, PhD, knows about oral health among North Carolina’s low-income populations.

“If you think it’s hard to get access to medical care, it’s even harder to get access to dental care,’’ says Quandt, a professor of epidemiology and prevention with Wake Forest School of Medicine. 

That is one of the reasons Quandt took the responsibility of organizing the hundreds of volunteers needed to staff the Winston-Salem Free Adult Dental Clinic, held last November at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.

She led a team of 431 community volunteers—many from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center—who worked for two days with 78 dentists and 277 dental team members to provide free care to those in need. The principle funder was the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust; Wake Forest Baptist was an event sponsor.

Nearly 700 people received dental care—from teeth cleanings to root canal to bridge work to extractions.

Tony Porter, DDS, organized the event for the North Carolina Dental Society.

The free adult dental clinic moves around the state to different locations; events were held in Winston-Salem in both 2014 and 2015. The North Carolina Missions of Mercy (NCMOM), an outreach program of the Dental Society, works with local organizers to provide the 80-chair dental clinic.

Porter says there are two goals behind the free dental clinics. The first is to treat patients and the second is “to shine a light so that policy makers see there is a problem.’’ He hopes state lawmakers will consider measures that make is easier for poor people to receive dental care, including funding for more community care clinics.

Quandt says the people who attend may be indigent, but many are working poor—people who cannot get dental insurance from their employer and cannot afford to pay for care themselves. It can be even tougher on those who no longer have jobs.

“It’s a vicious cycle,’’ Quandt says. “People can’t get jobs and they lose their dental care and so they experience tooth decay and even tooth loss. And that makes them less able to get jobs because they have constant dental pain and unattractive teeth. All of these things work against you when you’re trying to get a job.”

Quandt says the number of young adults who came in with decayed teeth and require extractions was disturbing. But the best part of the experience was seeing the compassion shown by dentists, dental assistants and community volunteers, Quandt says.

“Everyone understands that these are people who are there for economic reasons and have put off seeing a dentist for years,’’ she says. “The providers are kind and very understanding of the anxiety that patients are experiencing.”

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