By Christin Coyne
Palo Pinto County is getting its first area free dental clinic in August, thanks in part to a request by a local dentist, but there is still a lot of work to make it happen.
The Aug. 15 event at the Mineral Wells Senior Center will focus on bringing emergency dental help to 100 low-income residents who need cleanings, fillings and teeth pulled.
Currently funded by a grant from the Meadows Foundation, the Smiles on Wheels project brings emergency dental care to rural communities who have the need and infrastructure to support the program, according to Smiles director Traci Whitney.
Local dentist Saskia Vaughan said she saw a booth for the program at a Texas Dental Association conference and suggested it be brought to Palo Pinto County, which has a need but no charitable dental clinic or program.
“The problem is overwhelming in this county,” Vaughan said.
“We see a lot of people who need to have teeth taken out or a root canal but can’t afford it,” Vaughan said. “They just walk out of the office.”
Though she and other dentists take on the occasional charity case, Vaughan said they can’t do them all and they don’t have anywhere to refer them.
Besides the pain, which often causes people to miss work, other problems plague those with serious dental issues, according to Vaughan.
“If you have bad-looking teeth, it’s sad to say but you can’t get a job,” Vaughan said.
With dental care more common, teeth problems hold more stigma now, Vaughan said. “It makes people withdraw socially … they learn to hold their lips when they are talking so their teeth don’t show.”
“There are direct links from an infection in the mouth to other health problems,” Vaughan said, including diabetes, heart disease and premature births.
This is the first dental program of its kind for the area, according to Vaughan.
Mineral Wells will be the eighth stop for the program in August.
Smiles on Wheels has already brought dental care to the rural Texas cities of Rockdale, Crockett, Los Fresnos, Mount Pleasant and Atlanta, according to Whitney.
The program is mainly for adults because children are covered by Children’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, Vaughan said, and they won’t be able to provide any dental prosthesis or partials.
There are several ways community members can help, Vaughan said.
Many more volunteers are needed, according to Vaughan, from doctors to general volunteers to help bring food and set up and tear down.
They currently have a big shortage of dental hygienists, she said.
Those wish who they had the time or means to go on mission trip don’t need a passport or plane ticket since this one is in their town, Vaughan said.
“This is supposed to be a community-wide event,” Vaughan said.
They are also soliciting local donations.
Each participating location this year has been asked to raise $3,500 to pay it forward to the next location, according to Whitney.
For every $350 raised beyond the $3,500, one individual will receive comprehensive care, according to Vaughan, the value of which could be up to $3,000.
Vaughan said her office is selling whitening kits of professional strength for $70, half of which will be donated to the project.
So far, the United Way of Palo Pinto County, the Mineral Wells Senior Center, Indian Creek Baptist Church and Fort Worth District Dental Society have all pitched in to make the effort a success.
“Part of what we’re hoping is to get something like this going on a more regular basis,” Vaughan said. “But it takes a lot of community support.”
By Christin Coyne
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