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Virginia Community Dental Clinic to Shutter without Financial Shot in the Arm

March 3, 2015 

A Virginia dental clinic that has provided free care to indigent people during more than 30,000 dental visits during the past eight years soon could be shuttered due to a lack of funding.

Community Dental Clinic, which opened in Martinsville, Va., in August 2006, has provided more than $6.7 million in donated services to people who go there because they can’t afford to pay for dental care in private dental offices.

To help the many residents who were without dental benefits in the mid-2000s, when the local economy faltered, the Piedmont Virginia Dental Foundation opened the clinic with a $435,000 federal construction grant, according to Dr. Mark Crabtree, co-founder of the dental foundation. But the clinic no longer receives operating grant funding, and donations from community partners are running out.

Without a financial boost of about $150,000 to $200,000 per year, the clinic will not be able to keep its doors open past Aug. 31.

“There’s no self-sustainability with a program like this, because we’re giving away substantial dental services,” said Dr. Crabtree. “Our community has the highest unemployment rates in the state, yet our program is so effective that since we’ve opened, there has been a 34 percent decrease since 2008 in the number of people visiting the local emergency room for dental issues.”

Hospital emergency rooms in communities across the country are inundated by people seeking relief from untreated dental disease. Emergency rooms often are not equipped to handle the issues, which are best treated by dentists.

Demand for dental care among the needy in Martinsville is so high that Community Dental Clinic has a two-year waiting list for people needing comprehensive care. The clinic is staffed by a single full-time dentist, as well as a rotating list of part-time, volunteer dentists.

The clinic is able to treat so many people in part because of the participation of fourth-year dental students from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, who each spend at least a week treating patients. Nearly 700 students have participated.

Additionally, dental hygiene students from Virginia Commonwealth University and Danville Community College also treated patients last year.

“In order for this essential community resource to continue, the Piedmont Virginia Dental Foundation must have a consistent and reliable source of funds to fulfill its mission of improving the dental health of the community,” said Dr. Crabtree.

Those interested in supporting the efforts of Community Dental Clinic can make donations online or by sending a pledge card and donation to the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation, 407 Starling Ave., Martinsville, Va., 24112.