New dentist comes to free clinic

Published 9:13 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When Shirley Magee walked into the Western Tidewater Free Clinic on Monday, she was smiling.

It was a stark contrast from the last time, she admitted as she sunk into the dentist’s chair in the clinic.

“Last time when I came here, I wasn’t even smiling,” she said.

Ernest Knight checks inside Western Tidewater Free Clinic patient Shirley Magee’s mouth on Monday. He now works at the clinic 16 hours a week to help serve more patients.

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Magee has been treated by the dental clinic at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic several times. She has been out of work for several years, so she does not have insurance and couldn’t afford to pay for the dental work out of pocket.

She and hundreds of other patients will benefit from the clinic’s newest staff member, Dr. Ernest Knight. He now works at the clinic 16 hours a week as a paid staff member, in addition to several other dentists who still volunteer at the dental clinic.

The new position is funded by the Virginia Healthcare Foundation, said WTFC executive director Miriam Beiler said. Knight is helping to reduce the long waiting list.

“We were having trouble making a dent in that list,” Beiler said. “With someone who’s here 16 hours a week, we will be able to provide more services and take care of more people.”

In fact, Knight will enable the dental clinic to accept about 600 more patients a year.

The free clinic serves residents of the cities of Suffolk and Franklin and the counties of Southampton and Isle of Wight. To be eligible, residents must live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and have no health insurance.

“I value their services,” Magee said while in the dentist’s chair. “If it wasn’t for them, a lot of the stuff I need to get done, I wouldn’t be able to get done. I definitely enjoy having them around.”

Knight said patients who have not visited the dentist in years tend to suffer from the same problems — cavities, periodontal disease and bone loss.

“The bone support goes,” he said. “Once you start getting bone loss, it doesn’t grow back. You can treat it to maintain what you’ve got, but most people just can’t afford it.”

Knight, who brought on additional staff at his Franklin office to keep it running full-time, said he enjoys working at the free clinic and that the patients are always very appreciative.

“It’s helping people and helping patients,” he said. “I just enjoy dentistry.”