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Johnston Memorial Hospital plans dental residency program to provide dental care for the underserved

Friday, April 19, 2019

Johnston Memorial Hospital plans dental residency program to provide dental care for the underserved

In Southwest Virginia, as many as 68% of residents live without dental insurance [PDF] to help cover the costs of dental care.1 That’s compared to the national average of 33.6%.2 According to the Urban Institute, non-elderly adult Virginians without insurance were more likely to have lost one or more permanent teeth to decay or gum disease than those with insurance in 2016. Even for those with dental insurance, it may be difficult to get timely care, as Southwest Virginia does not have enough dentists to support the population. According to U.S. Census data, more than 160,000 residents in Southwest Virginia do not have adequate access to a dentist.

This dire need for dental care in Southwest Virginia was one of the catalysts for Johnston Memorial to plan a dental residency program that will offer advanced training to dentists who have obtained licensure and are interested in furthering their education or specializing in a certain field. Through a partnership with Dr. Michael McCracken, Dr. Scott Miller, and Mission Dental Virginia, the residency program will establish the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center, where a dental resident will provide a variety of services, including preventive care such as sealants, as well as restorative care like crowns, fillings and dentures. The dental care will be offered on a sliding scale to uninsured community members in need throughout Southwest Virginia.

Johnston Memorial will provide the dental residents for the clinic while Dr. Scott Miller will direct the clinic. 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.

“Ballad Health is a community health improvement organization dedicated to improving the overall health of our region, and dental care is extremely important to our overall health,” said Alan Levine, chairman and chief executive officer of Ballad Health.

“Improving oral health is one of several goals in our cooperative agreement in Virginia and certificate of public advantage in Tennessee, and that’s what this dental residency program will do: help residents of our region more easily gain access to dental services that improve their quality of life.”

Oral health can play a major part in overall wellness, according to the Virginia Health Care Foundation, making this issue a critical one for so many in underserved communities. Evidence exists of a link between oral infections and diabetes, heart disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes. People with periodontal (gum) disease are 1 ½ to two times more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and nearly three times more likely to suffer a stroke. Even basic, regular oral exams can help detect nutritional deficiencies, immune disorders and some cancers. Dental care can also impact a person’s socioeconomic success, as studies have shown a link between oral health and an individual’s ability to find and keep a job.

Pending approval from the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the residency will begin in August 2019.

“This is an exciting opportunity for residents in the field of dentistry to provide essential treatment for those in need,” said Dr. Scott Miller, director of the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center and advising dentist to the residents. “The clinic will accept patients with low household income, and will be able to benefit countless people in our region and have a significant impact on their health. It will also bring dental residents to this area to experience life in Southwest Virginia; hopefully, some will choose to stay here and practice.”

“We are so very excited about the new opportunity to help people in our region with their dental needs,” said Dr. Michael McCracken, director of dental education for the clinic. “Many people in this area struggle to find affordable care if they don’t have dental insurance. Our goal is to help people smile again. It is an honor to work with Johnston Memorial to provide these much-needed services to the community.”

In the coming months, a site will be identified for the clinic. When the clinic reaches its full capacity, up to 10 dental residents will provide dental care to members of the community.

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.

Johnston Memorial’s foundation – the philanthropic arm of the hospital that raises money for community and hospital needs – has taken this clinic on as their fundraising event for the year.

The foundation is holding Boots & Bow Ties, a fundraiser centered on the clinic, on Saturday, May 18, at Woodbrook Farms in Abingdon. To learn more about the annual event or to support the future dental center, visit


1. Virginia Department of Health, [PDF]

2. American Dental Association,

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