Improving Health Through Smiles
In 2015, Little River Medical Center developed an emergency dental clinic to serve uninsured patients at the federally qualified health center’s two locations five days a week. Over the past several years, the clinic has expanded, as there is a growing need for affordable dental services. In 2018, the dental clinic had 23,539 dental visits, an increase of 15.8 percent from the previous year. In 2018, 2,684 low-income individuals were treated for dental emergencies. If one-third of these emergencies had presented to local hospitals, it would have cost approximately $308,000 in total ED-related charges.
By increasing access to emergency dental care, Little River Medical Center has impacts beyond providing direct care to patients. Take Dawn, a 53-year-old woman with a history of drug abuse and incarceration. Dawn wanted to improve her quality of life. But she had difficulty finding and keeping a steady job. The condition of her teeth prevented her from speaking clearly and smiling, and she was in constant pain. After coming to Little River’s emergency dental clinic, a personal care plan was created. Dawn had all her teeth extracted, including one impacted tooth that required oral surgery. Once healed, she was fitted for dentures. Three years later, Dawn is smiling and has consistently held two jobs in the restaurant industry.