Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Dental clinic brings relief, smiles
By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • December 2, 2009 Late last year, the pain ripping though Penny Davis's jaw was searing. She'd already taken two unpaid weeks away from work. One dentist said the cost to remove her problem wisdom teeth would be $1,400; another said he would charge her a fee per tooth. There was another problem. After a childhood that included one visit to the dentist, Davis had cavities and an outbreak of so much brownish-gold decay that someone once asked if she smoked crack. "One moment you are in so much pain you can't function, and another you have people judging you because of the way your teeth look," said Davis, a 29-year-old mother of two who lives in Murfreesboro. "Of course, they don't know what caused my teeth to be like that, but they think they do." A neighbor told Davis about the Interfaith Dental Clinic in Nashville. The clinic, which began in the basement of West End United Methodist Church 15 years ago, tries to fill a gaping hole in Tennessee's health-care system for the poor, those in pain and the uninsured. TennCare provides no dental coverage, and only a small patchwork of community clinics are equipped to provide some dental services, said Rhonda Switzer, executive director of the clinic. Dental care, even with insurance, can be so expensive that it's unattainable, or at least something people put off until they are in crisis. But the lack of dental care can contribute to premature births, heart disease and exacerbate diabetes, Switzer said. What happens all too often is that people arrive at the dentist in crisis after years of gum disease and tooth decay have taken their toll. Cost concerns lead people to agree to have all their teeth removed, she said. Decay arrested That's where the Interfaith Dental Clinic's eight staff members, all but two of which treat patients, and more than 300 volunteer dental practitioners come in. Potential patients with severe dental pain are seen on an emergency basis. Then they must apply to participate in the clinic's program. Participants must have no dental insurance, be employed but earn incomes that fall below 250 percent of the federal poverty line, learn about oral health and agree to maintain dental work performed at the clinic through proper hygiene. "We try to get them cavity free, pain free and gum disease controllable," said Switzer. "When we do, there's a lot more that can come with a change in a patient's teeth." Just last week, Switzer treated a mother of five who, along with her husband, was moved to tears when, for the first time in 10 years, her smile included two front teeth with no visible decay. Clinic patients pay for dental work on a sliding scale based on income and family size. Dental work is spaced out so that patients may save and plan for the expense. Over time, Davis, for example, will pay about $3,000 of what would likely be the $13,800 bill for her dental needs in another practice. "I honestly don't know what I would have done without this place," she said. "I didn't want to come all the way to Nashville, but I'm so glad they're here. It's really changed my life." .
Posted by Blogger at 6:34 AM