Dental care for everyone

Published 7:28 pm Friday, February 6, 2015

When folks are hurting financially, one of the easiest things to postpone is expensive dental work. Except in the case of extreme emergencies, many dental procedures can be ignored without immediate effect. But the long-term consequences of doing so can be catastrophic to oral health.

Every time a philanthropic organization offers free or reduced-cost dental procedures to people in the area, the providers find themselves overwhelmed by the response from people who have little or no dental insurance and problems with their teeth that have been prohibitively expensive to fix.

During last year’s Mission of Mercy event at King’s Fork Middle School, for instance, dentists and their assistants treated 464 patients who waited hours in line for the chance to be seen. Their problems ranged from the simple to the complex. A similar clinic in 2011, hosted by the Obici Healthcare Foundation and the Oral Healthcare Improvement Coalition of Hampton Roads, brought out about 145 patients, many with dental problems that resulted in continual pain.

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Clearly, there is a huge demand for such clinics. Seeing the need, various groups have begun to take steps to provide free dental services to indigent and underinsured clients throughout Suffolk and the rest of Western Tidewater. The Western Tidewater Free Clinic, for example, opened a dental wing in its fine facility a couple of years ago, and officials have reported that its services are just as much in demand as the rest of the clinic’s offerings.

Another organization, the Suffolk Unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Hampton Roads, has recently begun offering dental services through a grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, administered by the Hampton Roads Community Health Center. It’s a small program with only one chair and one day a week of services, but it’s another little bit of help to a community that needs it.

And Mission of Mercy will return to Suffolk on Feb. 28, this time with even more chairs and the ability, organizers say, to serve up to 700 patients during the daylong event.

It’s still easy to avoid the dentist, especially when times are tough, but dentists and other volunteers and philanthropists in Suffolk are gradually removing at least one of the excuses for doing so.