Over 10,000 people in the Ohio Valley will soon be able to take advantage of free dental care, which is something many of them may not have had access to in the past.
Wheeling Health Right is almost ready to open their free dental clinic to their patients, and on Wednesday night they held an open house reception to look at the newly-renovated facility.
Having a dental clinic to provide for Wheeling Health Right patients had been a dream of Executive Director Kathie Brown's for over 20 years. "I knew that it was a piece that we had been missing for so long, and I am beyond excited. I don't know how to tell you how thrilled we are."
The free health care clinic helps 18,000 uninsured and under-insured patients in the northern panhandle of West Virginia and in Belmont County, Ohio. They currently provide physical and mental health services, along with vision care.
Last April, Brown attended a dentist meeting and met Dr. Eleisha Nickoles, who volunteered her time while running her own private practice. She said after graduating dental school in 2005, she opened her own two-bed clinic, and she was able to help with the planning of Wheeling Health Right's free clinic.
She said she is looking forward to helping patients achieve overall health. "The main thing is to educate them because a lot of the disease in dental is preventable. So let's give them the education, the tools, and show them exactly what's going on and how they can improve at home," Dr. Nickoles said.
The clinic features state-of-the-art equipment, like a panoramic X-ray machine that uses less radiation, and eliminates the use of bite wings. It also will have a computerized system, which will come in handy for the dental hygienist and assistant who may need to get some advice from a dentist. "If something would come up, any of us could call and we could remote in and look at their record and their chart and give them some direction, or maybe say 'I'll be down,'" Nickoles added.
Brown said being able to provide patients dental care will benefit their entire physical health, like lessening the risk of heart disease or other serious problems that can relate to teeth and gums. She also said it has the potential to benefit the economy in the long-run, giving job seekers more confidence. "So this will be an opportunity for people to be able to get out in the workforce, because now they'll be happy about their teeth."
Now that the facility is nearly complete, the volunteer dentists, hygienists and assistants will be trained on the equipment. The clinic will also hold a close partnership with West Liberty University's dental hygiene program, students at Eastern Gateway Community College and students from WVU's dentistry school.
Local dentists have volunteered their time to help the free clinic provide care during the week. They will perform cleanings, extractions, simple fillings and other minor procedures. They do not have the capability to offer procedures such as fitting patients for dentures at the time.
Brown said though the clinic is close to being finished, it will require continued long-term funding to continue operating. Dr. Nickoles said Wheeling Health Right already has a waiting list of people ready to get in and take charge of their oral health.
To qualify, you must be an active patient in Wheeling Health Right's system. Dental clinic patients also must be non-smokers or take a smoking cessation course prior to being treated.
A ribbon cutting will be held on Wednesday, March 30.