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Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center receives grant funding, prepares for grand opening

Friday, March 20, 2020

Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center receives grant funding, prepares for grand opening

In support of World Oral Health Day, the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center – in conjunction with a dental residency program operated through Johnston Memorial Hospital – is pleased to announce it has been awarded multiple grants and is well on the way to opening its doors to the public.

The clinic will provide a much-needed access point for people in Southwest Virginia to receive care. It also offers advanced training to dentists who have obtained licensure and are interested in furthering their education or specializing in a certain field.

“It’s no secret – oral health is a major indicator of overall wellness,” said John Jeter, chief executive officer of Johnston Memorial. “Evidence shows a link between dental health and diabetes, heart disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Plus, people with gum disease are 1½ to two times more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and nearly three times more likely to suffer a stroke.

“Unfortunately, though, in Southwest Virginia, as many as 68% of our residents don’t have dental insurance, and more than 160,000 of us don’t have adequate access to a dentist. That’s why the new Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center is so important – it’s giving more people access to oral care and, hopefully, opening new pathways for better health.”

Through a partnership with Dr. Michael McCracken, Dr. Scott Miller and Mission Dental Virginia, the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center provides a variety of services, including preventive care such as sealants and restorative care like crowns, fillings and dentures. The dental care will be offered to uninsured patients on a sliding scale, targeting low-income community members in need throughout Southwest Virginia.

Johnston Memorial will provide the dental residents for the clinic, while Mission Dental Virginia will direct it. Mission Dental Virginia is a non-profit Virginia corporation organized for the purpose of providing charitable dental services for underserved and uninsured individuals and families of Southwest Virginia.

“This is an exciting opportunity, not just for dental residents, but for those in need across Southwest Virginia,” said Dr. Miller, who is also an advising dentist to the residents. “Providing dental care not only improves overall health, but it can be an important factor in job success and other socioeconomic factors – all of which, again, contribute to health and wellbeing.

“Also, by increasing the number of dentists in this region, even more people will have access to dental care. We very much look forward to moving the needle on this region’s oral health statistics, while giving hope to retiring dentists as well.”

The Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center will also benefit from two recent grants awarded to Mission Dental Virginia. The Virginia Healthcare Foundation provided $50,000, to be used for capital expenditures for dental equipment in the clinic’s eight dental operatories, while Delta Dental Virginia provided a $15,000 grant in support of dental appliances, such as dentures and implants.

Ballad Health Foundation also provided $41,000 to the clinic, made possible through events in Southwest Virginia last year, and the clinic is also the beneficiary of contributions, volunteers and community partners.

Additionally, the clinic’s space is made possible by a land donation from Johnston Memorial. Its new address – 616 Campus Drive, Suite 100, Abingdon, Virginia – is available rent-free to the clinic.

“We’ve known all along that to truly make a difference – whether in healthcare, quality of life or social factors – it takes a village,” Jeter said. “I’m deeply grateful to all of our partners, from Mission Dental Virginia to the committed volunteers working in the dental clinic, for giving their time, talents and resources to make the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center a reality.”

While the clinic is planned to open to the general public in July, its residents have begun providing care to several patients. Within its first day, three Southwest Virginia residents received new dentures, and clinic team members are optimistic for future patients.

“Nothing compares to a healthy smile,” said Dr. McCracken, director of dental education for the clinic. “Unfortunately, too many people in this region have been prevented from having the bright smiles they deserve, whether due to affordability or access. That’s why we’re so very excited to open this clinic – we’re smiling, too.”

The Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center will begin scheduling patient appointments in April, in anticipation of its grand opening in July. Appointments can be made by calling 276-525-4487 or on the center’s website. Starting in July, the clinic will be open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

There is potential for patient care to be impacted by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Ballad Health will announce these updates as they’re available, and current news is updated on its COVID-19 page.

The clinic’s opening plans follow its official go-ahead from the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) to add Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center as a major training site for dental residents. The program in advanced education in general dentistry (12-month/optional second year) is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and has been granted the accreditation status of “initial accreditation.”

Program accreditation is vital because graduation from an accredited program is almost always stipulated by state law and is an eligibility requirement for licensure and/or certification examinations. In short, accreditation of a school or program is a student’s most important source of independent validation that the program has at least enough educational value to be “approved” by a credible (expertise-based), independent (free of outside influence), reliable (consistently applied standards) organization that has the U.S. Department of Education’s approval.

In addition to the patients of the clinic, patients at Johnston Memorial will also see the benefits from the program. The dental residents will be available to treat hospital patients with oral healthcare needs, including cancer patients, patients in the sleep labs, and those who come into the emergency room with dental problems.

Anyone interested in giving time, money or equipment to the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center can contact missiondentalva@gmail.com or call 706-509-2997.

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