Susan came into the Community Free Dental Clinic (CFDC) apprehensively; hiding her mouth behind her hand, she spoke very few words. Upon assessing her needs, the dentist discovered Susan was an abuse victim.
Her husband had fractured most of her teeth, and she was also dealing with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
Susan’s circumstances caused her to live life as a recluse, rarely talking and rarely leaving the house—partly because she was so ashamed of how she looked. She came to the clinic because her doctor suggested she have her fractured teeth extracted and dentures to help her recover from her situation.
A Confident Smile
Over the course of seven visits, Susan had 24 teeth removed. The appointments took several months as she struggled through blood pressure problems and diabetes, but she always returned to tackle the remaining teeth. Her resolve and persistence paid off, and Susan soon discovered the confidence and joy that comes with a smile.
Several weeks after her dental work was completed, Susan came back into the clinic; now, with her dentures completed, her entire demeanor had changed. She was no longer shy and withdrawn. Instead, she was excitedly talking to everyone in the office, sharing her story with other patients and proudly showing off her smile to them one by one.
A New Place In Town
The Community Free Dental Clinic opened its door in March 2013 after a community nurse (Eugenia Graves, RN, FCN), dentists Dr. James Wall and Dr. Alan Jones, Gayla Kidd, Colonel Bryan Bennett and other community leaders identified a distinct access gap of dental care for low-income or uninsured adults in Madison County.
With help from members of the Madison County Dental Society, the clinic provides free, quality dental care to eligible adult residents in Madison County. It is the only organization of its kind in our area.
In the three and a half years they’ve been open, CFDC has served more than 3,500 patients— all of the work performed by unpaid, local dentists volunteering their services. The continuing operation of the Community Free Dental Clinic is truly a community joint effort; currently over 40 dentists volunteer monthly, and the clinic operates solely on private and public donations and grants. To date, volunteer dental services hours alone exceed 1.5 million dollars!
Help For All
The patients come from all walks of life. Some are underemployed, some are down on their luck and just going through a rough season of life and others are elderly or living off Medicare. The one thing every patient has in common is they come in with pain after suffering for weeks, or even months, with the inability to get dental care elsewhere.
Eugenia Graves’s shares, “These are the people who endure the worst tooth pain to the extent where it brings them to the emergency room. Not many of us could stand that pain and would immediately call a dentist. The problem is, these people can’t. And when they go to the ER, the problem isn’t solved—they may receive antibiotics or pain medicine, but with no treatment for the cause of the problem, it often worsens.”
One Man’s Story
Tom is of one of the patients the Community Free Dental clinic assisted. He was an auto mechanic who was tragically injured in a hit-and-run accident. He broke many bones, and the accident left him disabled and unable to return to work.
Tom came in with two abscesses after being in constant pain for 7 months. When asked about how he discovered the clinic, he said, “I didn’t know of anyone who could help me. It’s been unbearable, and I thought it would never end. Someone at the bus stop told me about the clinic.”
The Community Free Dental Clinic treats these critical care cases by extracting teeth as needed. Some abscesses are so severe, the extraction can often be life-saving.
Ginger Finzel, executive director of the clinic shares, “We have even heard singing and praising in the operatories just as soon as the anesthetics have taken affect. They are out of pain, for the first time, from what seemed liked a hopeless situation. We’ve had so many clients report, ‘You gave me my life back!’ And that is exactly why we do what we do—help those who need dental care most but otherwise have no access to it.
A New Home
Last year, the Community Free Dental Clinic moved to their newly remodeled office at 2341 Whitesburg Drive. The new location gives them more space, more equipment and fully updated facilities, which allows them to serve more clients. Within one month of opening in their new location, clinic dentists served 364 patients. For now they only perform extractions, but the dream is to expand their dental services to include preventive care.
Even though the new office just opened its doors last September, the waiting list to be seen is already weeks out. Clearly, the need is here in Madison County, and so many are dangerously slipping through the cracks of being able to access dental services. Anyone who has ever experienced intense tooth pain knows it’s something dreadful to endure for any length of time.
The Community Free Dental clinic depends solely on donations to be able to continue serving the increasing demand for care. Currently, they are in need of large-size tooth paste and gallons of distilled water, and your donations are greatly appreciated.