Studies have shown a direct correlation between oral hygiene and overall health, and local doctors are working hard to make dentistry more accessible to Rutherford County residents.
A Nashville group has been treating low-income patients for more than 15 years through the mission work of area dentists.
Since its inception in 1994, Interfaith Dental has provided dental services to Davidson and surrounding counties, said Rhonda Switzer, executive director and Nashville dentist.
She estimates that about 10 percent of patients are from Rutherford County – a number that has grown alongside the county’s population.
Under the leadership of Murfreesboro dentist Roy Thompson, Interfaith Dental has been working to open a branch in Rutherford County.
The group’s hard work has finally come to fruition – construction on the new 5,500-square-foot facility begins next week, and the office is scheduled to open in January. It will offer five treatment rooms with build-out plans for three additional rooms.
“When we’re treating these patients, we are not only trying to get their teeth health, but we’re trying to give them tools for their entire family so they can break the cycle of tooth decay,” Thompson said. “Good dental health ahs good implications for overall health.”
He pointed out more and more research articles are being written about the connection between periodontal health and overall wellness.
Research has identified gum disease as a risk factor for heart and lung disease, diabetes, premature, low birth weight babies and a number of other conditions, according to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.
Beyond that, Thompson says a healthy smile boosts self-esteem.
“This is really a life changing experience, it’s a transformational change in patients,” he said. “And they can teach their children and teach their spouses. We try to leverage the investment in their mouths to make an entire family transformation. That’s what changes people.”
Charity holds ‘awareness dinner’
More than two-thirds of the $1.3 million campaign goal has been raised from local companies and organizations, with the lead gift of $710,000 coming from the Christy Houston Foundation.
On Thursday, Nov. 10, Interfaith Dental of Rutherford County will host a complimentary fundraising dinner, “The Story Behind the Smiles,” beginning at 6 p.m. at Stones River Country Club.
The community’s investment in this project is important for a number of reasons, Thompson said.
“It is not only a fundraiser, it is an awareness dinner,” he said. “There’s much more need than we can ever meet. Honestly, this is a chance for people’s donations to make a difference in (patients’) lives.”
Providing Interfaith Dental within Rutherford County also eliminates the drive to Nashville for both doctors and patients.
“The population that we address is already strapped financially. If they have to spend time going to Nashville and take time off work, that’s a double or triple whammy,” Thompson continued. “And a lot of that population might not have transportation, so (the new office) is on the Rover route, which makes it a lot easier for them.”
Switzer pointed out that oftentimes, dentists want to help patients, but are unsure of the specifics.
“Their overhead is 60 percent, and they can only give away so much,” she said. “And a lot of people can pay a little something, but it’s hard for doctors to know how much to charge.”
That’s where Interface Dental comes into play – its program is based on a sliding fee scale. Patients receive up to 80 percent off market value for services, depending on their income level.
“Patients want to pay something,” Switzer explained. “If they don’t pay a little something, they’re not in power to complain, and they need to be able to say, ‘This denture doesn’t fit.’ And if you’ve got skin in the game as a patient, you’re going to read the fine print (about) how long it’s going to last.”
Of the new facility, she said it is an investment that will be around for years to come.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Interfaith Dental Clinic has been providing affordable, comprehensive dental care to uninsured, low-income, working adults, their children and the elderly in Middle Tennessee for 17 years. Currently, the clinic has 27 staff, more than 300 volunteers, and provides comprehensive services for 1,600 patients a year.
This is possible through the passion of those affiliated with Interfaith Dental, Thompson concluded.
“One of the things that attracts doctors is the passion that this staff has and that they really approach this as missions work – this is truly God’s work,” he said.