Something To Smile About

No doubt the most overlooked education and economic development initiative in West Virginia was showcased in a picture we printed a few days ago.

It showed dentists and dental students.

You may remember it. Local dentists Dr. Craig Wilcox and Dr. Trey Wilcox, along with West Virginia University School of Dentistry students Courtney Strubin and Keith Hickman were pictured. They were shown in the Wheeling Health Right dental clinic.

Wheeling Health Right has been renowned for years as a place where people who can’t afford much for medical care can get it. Less well-known is the facility’s dental clinic. Established in 2016, it, too, helps low-income people and families.

In less than two years, more than 1,000 people have been helped by it. The clinic operates with volunteer professionals and WVU dental students.

Dental care for low-income people is nothing new. I’ve known dentists who provided it in their own practices for decades. One said he’s happy to help, but could be treating more patients unable to pay regular prices, or even to pay at all.

The problem, my friend said, is that many of those most in need of the help are too proud to ask for it, even for their children.

In fact, in addition to the hundreds of dentists who quietly do all they can to help patients without insurance or the means to pay themselves, there are an estimated 29 free or reduced-priced dental clinics throughout our state.

We need them badly. In general, Mountain State residents suffer from the worst dental health in the nation, according to some studies. The old stereotype about the hillbilly with no teeth has a grain or two of truth to it.

What does that mean to us?

For starters, children with bad, untreated teeth don’t do as well in school as their peers with better oral health. Hey, when your teeth hurt, it’s hard to concentrate.

Getting dental care to kids from low-income families is an important education initiative, then.

What about adults? The same as children, bad teeth make life less pleasant for them. It can mean difficulty with job interviews, too.

That makes dental health a factor in a person’s ability to get and hold a good job.

So yes, dental care for low-income West Virginians affects the economy.

Good for dentists and other professionals who volunteer enormous amounts of time and expertise to help those on limited incomes. Let’s hope they can reach into every corner of our state.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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