Open house at free dental clinic

Published 8:32 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SUFFOLK—Just six weeks into its newest venture, the Western Tidewater Free Clinic is proving once again that the need for reduced-price and free health-care alternatives in the area cannot be overstated.

Six weeks after opening the doors of their new dental clinic, WTFC volunteers and staff took some time out last week to thank the people who made the new facility possible.

They also marveled at how much use the clinic has gotten during its brief life.

The initial goal for the facility had been 144 patient visits within its first three months, officials said. But since opening its doors on April 15, the dental wing at WTFC has held 21 clinics during which dentists took care of 113 patient visits, including 91 unique patients, according to Joni Webber, dental coordinator.

There has been a longtime need for free dental services for people without insurance in Western Tidewater, Clinic Coordinator Pamela Witt told a small group that gathered in the meeting area of the clinic’s new building last Wednesday for an open house.

In fact, the folks who helped launch the Free Clinic in 2007 received their first donation of dental equipment before they received any other equipment donations. But even though the earliest plans for WTFC called on clients to also receive dental treatment, there was no room to house the equipment or offer treatments until the organization moved into its new Meade Parkway facility. Visits from the Operation Blessing mobile dental unit allowed the clinic to offer dental services to 10 patients or so a month. But the vast majority of patients never had a chance.

“Some patients had never had dental care in their lives,” Witt said, describing how some clients would come to WTFC from the hospital emergency room, faces swollen from some dental crisis and having been prescribed an antibiotic and a pain reliever, and told to visit their dentists for treatment.

That option, however, was not available to the vast majority of those who use the services of WTFC — people without health insurance who could not afford to visit the doctor before the Free Clinic came along.

“The main thing to me is to see these people come in here, and they tell me how long they’ve waited” for dental treatment, Webber said.

“The Western Tidewater area is truly blessed,” added Rick Spencer of the Obici Healthcare Foundation. “The lack of dental care represents a service gap in many communities across America. That’s not the case here.”

The Obici Healthcare Foundation is one of the major contributors to the WTFC, and a donation from that organization allowed the clinic to buy the building where it is now located. Another big local supporter, the Birdsong Trust, was instrumental in providing funding for much of the dental clinic.

The Virginia Healthcare Foundation and a group of women from a Windsor church also played a big part in launching the dental effort, officials said.

Now, WTFC leaders are lobbying area dentists to get involved by volunteering their time for dental clinics at the new facility. Several participating dentists were on hand for the celebration Wednesday, and others had been invited to learn more about the volunteer opportunity.