Patients at Wheeling Health Right’s Dental Clinic See Health Improve

Photo by Linda Comins Janice Carenbauer, right, front office manager for Wheeling Health Right, shows equipment in the new dental clinic to Sister Christine Riley, CSJ, left, and Lynne Exley, both of Wheeling. They toured the new clinic during a Congregations for Caring open house at Health Right.

Wheeling Health Right’s new dental clinic is already achieving its goals of providing dental care for those in need and improving patients’ overall health.

The fully equipped dental clinic opened in September at the free medical clinic’s headquarters on 29th Street. Kathie Brown, executive director of Wheeling Health Right, said the dental clinic has provided $180,760 worth of care to date.

The facility was a focal point of tours offered Tuesday during a Congregations for Caring open house at Health Right. Congregations for Caring is a new interfaith initiative to raise funds for the charitable clinic.

Ten area dentists serve as volunteers at the dental clinic.

“The whole dental society has been great,” Brown said regarding professional support for the program.

In addition, students from West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry are assigned to work at the Wheeling site. They are supervised by local dentists who have been approved by WVU.

“The students get a lot of experience here,” Brown said, adding the juniors are getting more experience in reconstructive work than they do in the WVU clinic because those procedures are reserved for senior students at the Morgantown site.

Patients who are receiving the free dental care also benefit from having their dental issues treated within a primary care setting. The primary care practitioners and the dental staff “work together to ensure all of the patients’ needs are taken care of,” Brown said.

When Highmark and the Benedum Foundation provided start-up funding for the clinic, it was their hope that addressing dental problems would lead to better general health, and that has proven to be true, Brown said.

For instance, after patients with many mouth infections receive treatment, “their chronic diseases are improving,” she said. “We really are seeing an improvement.”

In addition, people who have proper dental care are more likely to secure or retain employment because their teeth don’t hurt and their physical appearance is better, she said.

Wheeling Health Right serves area residents who are uninsured, underinsured or on Medicaid. Brown said the Affordable Care Act does not cover dental care. The clinic’s service area covers Ohio, Marshall, Brooke, Wetzel and Tyler counties in West Virginia and Belmont County in Ohio.

Area residents can receive basic teeth cleaning services at West Liberty University’s dental hygiene clinic. However, a lack of transportation to West Liberty is “a huge obstacle” for many people, Brown said.

Prior to the opening of Wheeling Health Right’s dental clinic, people in need had to drive to WVU and hope to be seen, or drive to a facility in East Liverpool that also operates on a “first-come, first-served” basis, she said.

“This (dental clinic) really gives them an excellent alternative,” she said.

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