Red Bird dental clinic fixes teeth of people in drug treatment, preparing them for work and cutting need for painkillers

A dental clinic in southeastern Kentucky, with help from dental-school students, is pulling teeth and providing dentures for residents of drug-treatment centers “in hopes of building their self-confidence and putting them in a better position to get jobs,” Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.

“In a state that already suffers from high poverty and poor dental health, addiction is adding to the toll on teeth — and that is holding back some people in drug treatment programs,” Yetter writes, quoting Dr. Bill Collins, dental director at the Red Bird Mission of the United Methodist Church: “People do well when they complete treatment. But when they smile and they have no teeth, it’s hard for them to get employment. And if they can’t find work, they go back to drug use.”

Students from the state’s two dental schools are helping. “The Red Bird dental clinic shows what institutions of higher education should do,” University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi said at an open house at the clinic, in far southern Clay County.

Sharon Turner, retired dental dean at the University of Kentucky, who volunteers at the clinic, “said it’s important to treat all patients with respect and provide quality dental care she said is offered at Red Bird,” Yetter reports.

Turner said there’s another reason to fix the teeth of people coming out of drug treatment, Yetter writes: “Chronic pain from untreated dental problems can lead people to resort to painkillers, causing them to relapse.”

Patients pay only $25 a visit for treatment, “which can run up to five visits for cases that require extraction of all teeth and having dentures made,” Yetter reports. “The actual costs of dentures is about $2,000, Collins said. The clinic works with people who can’t pay, and Collins said several outside grants help cover costs for low-income and uninsured patients and the mobile services.” The grants are $50,000 from Delta Dental, an insurance company; $37,250 from the Methodist Church’s Good Samaritan Foundation; and $20,000 from Avesis, a dental managed-care company.

“The best part for everyone is the reaction of patients they’ve helped, such as a woman’s exclamation of delight recently when staff at the clinic handed her a mirror to admire her new dentures,” Yetter reports, quoting Turner: “It’s changing their world.”

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