Free dental care something to smile about

55 Clark County dental pros provide for low-income, uninsured

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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More than 200 low-income and uninsured Clark County residents had their dental needs met this week, free of charge.

Fifty-five general dentists, periodontists, oral surgeons and endodontists opened the doors to their practices and performed extractions, fillings and crowns for adults in the community.

The dental care blitz was organized by the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington. The Free Clinic provides half-day dental clinics in an equipped van to meet the urgent dental needs of uninsured residents. But the clinic’s wait list had swelled to 700 people, meaning people with painful oral health issues were left to wait up to six months for care.

That’s when Stephen Hendricks, an AmeriCorps volunteer from Indiana, came up with the idea to recruit local dentists to provide free care this week. This week is also spring break for many local families, so some dentists agreed to provide care for patients later in the month.

When all is said and done, the Free Clinic expects its wait list will be 250 people shorter thanks to the local dentists, said Barbe West, executive director of the Free Clinic.

Vancouver resident Kendra Reagan, 23, was among those who benefited from the event. Reagan had been on the Free Clinic’s waiting list for four months. Several teeth in the lower left side of her mouth were causing pain and discomfort.

Reagan had dental insurance through the state, but when Medicaid eliminated dental and vision benefits for adults last year, she lost her coverage. Without the free visit, Reagan said she wouldn’t be able to pay several hundred dollars out-of-pocket for treatment.

Reagan was homeless for a year and has spent the last year getting back on her feet. She had a baby, got a job and found a place of her own. But her rent is nearly $800 per month, not including utilities.

The Free Clinic scheduled an appointment for Reagan with Dr. Dave Stinchfield at Discovery Dental in Washougal. Stinchfield was able to restore two of Reagan’s teeth during the visit.

“I think it’s really awesome that they’re doing this,” Reagan said. “They’re helping a lot of people who can’t get help.”

Since moving to Clark County seven years ago, Stinchfield has volunteered his services a couple times a year at the Free Clinic. His brother, Dr. Tom Stinchfield, joined the practice seven months ago and has helped out at the clinic once.

“It’s always a challenge to get out there,” Dave Stinchfield said. “This is like the perfect opportunity.”

“It’s cool,” Tom Stinchfield added. “It’s in our environment. We can do the treatment we think the patient needs,” rather than be limited by what’s available at the Free Clinic.

By the end of the week, the two dentists will have provided extractions, fillings and crowns -- about $10,000 worth -- to 18 patients.

“It’s a great way to help out,” Dave Stinchfield said. “With the economy, so many people can’t get good dentistry.”

Dave Stinchfield said he would like to see the Free Clinic continue its efforts throughout the year. Rather than a weeklong blitz, however, he’d like to see local dentists volunteer to see a patient or two every quarter.

West, with the Free Clinic, said the event advisory committee will collect feedback from participating dentists and decide how best to move forward, whether its with local dentists providing ongoing care or continuing the event each year.

Either way, West said, this week’s event provided some much-needed relief for the clinic and its patients.

“It’s certainly going to be seen as worthwhile,” she said. “And it’s certainly met a need.”

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.