Trimming the list

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fear of the dentist, commonly known as dental phobia or dentophobia, is remarkably widespread in America, with some studies suggesting that as much as 75 percent of the nation’s population has some level of anxiety about dental appointments. As many as one in 10 adults report their fear to be acute enough that they avoid visiting the dentist at all costs.

Shirley Magee doesn’t have that problem. But still, until recently, she hadn’t been to the dentist in years. Magee, who has been out of work for several years, is one of the many people in Suffolk and the rest of Western Tidewater who lack dental insurance and are unable to afford the cost of regular visits to the dentist.

Recognizing that good dental health is an important part of a person’s overall health — and that some dental problems have been shown to be harbingers of or even contributors to other, more dangerous, health issues — the Western Tidewater Free Clinic last year turned a portion of its new building on Meade Parkway into a dental clinic.

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The organization has a group of volunteer dentists providing services on a rotating basis. But as with so many altruistic ventures, it has become apparent the need for help far outweighs the volunteers’ ability to provide it. So a dentist from Franklin, Dr. Ernest Knight, has been hired to supplement the work of the volunteers by providing services for 16 hours a week. The doctor’s time will be funded through a grant from the Virginia Healthcare Foundation.

Magee is one of hundreds of people who will benefit from the new position at WTFC. There’s a waiting list of dental patients there. Through the generosity of the VHF and the many volunteers who help support the free clinic — and now through the paid efforts of a part-time dentist — that waiting list should shrink a bit.

Folks at the free clinic continue to provide a wonderful service to Suffolk and the rest of Western Tidewater. Their hard work is an incredible gift to the community.