Dr. Ernest Knight of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic examines Ruth Whitehead in preparation for making dentures for her at the clinic on Monday.
Dr. Ernest Knight of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic examines Ruth Whitehead in preparation for making dentures for her at the clinic on Monday.

Show those pearly whites

Published 10:36pm Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ruth Whitehead has been without teeth since September, when they were pulled because she was having so many problems with them.

Thanks to the denture lab at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, she and many other patients have been able to get new dentures that were made right on site at the clinic.

“I had my teeth, but they were bad,” Whitehead said on Monday. She was at the clinic to be fitted for her top dentures; she already received the bottom ones.

“It’s going to feel good to be able to say I’ve got my top and my bottom,” she said, adding that all of the staff at the clinic, including dentist Dr. Ernest Knight, had been good to her.

The clinic obtained funding for the Larell Dentures system from the Virginia Health Care Foundation, which paid for training and a starter kit. The dentures can be made while the patient waits.

Executive Director Miriam Beiler said the dental clinic saw 585 patients during 2,155 visits in 2013 and provided 82 dentures.

Dentures are important for many reasons, Beiler said.

“Some people think of dentures as being more cosmetic than anything else,” Beiler said. “But (not having teeth) affects a patient’s ability to chew and eat more nutritious foods. In some cases, it helps people to become more employable.”

Beiler said at least one of the clinic’s patients found a job immediately after getting her dentures.

“If you think about going for an interview and not having any teeth, your enunciation is not as clear,” Beiler said. “It’s just harder to get a job.”

Improvements in health and employability reduce the use of clinic resources and allow access for other patients, allowing the entire community to benefit from the denture lab, she said.

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