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Action for Dental Health

Dentists, Physicians Work Together to Provide Care for Mississippi Poor

October 5, 2015 

Dentists and physicians in a Mississippi community are working together to ensure that people without insurance receive the care they need.  
The Tree of Life Free Clinic provides care on a first-come, first-served basis to more than 200 people each month. Created by a group of physicians in 2010, the Tupelo clinic started in a small physician’s office and then moved to a building owned by a local Baptist church.

Thanks to a $40,000 grant, in 2012 the clinic expanded to include three chairs where volunteer dentists treat people referred by the organization’s physicians. Dentists treat an average of 50 people during the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month, according to Dr. Mindy Austin, who created the dental clinic.

“At this point we only provide extractions – just getting people out of pain and making sure there’s no infection,” she said. “We don’t yet have the manpower to provide preventive care.”

Eleven dentists – including two oral surgeons – volunteer on a rotating basis, she said.

“We have someone on staff who triages the patients to make sure they’re ready for surgery,” she said. “We see them, take X-rays, evaluate them and then perform the extraction.”

The only requirement for patients is that they do not have Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.

“A lot of our patients are people who have jobs that pay lower wages, and their employers don’t offer medical or dental benefits,” said Dr. Austin. “Because we also provide care on Saturdays, we’re able to treat people who work and can’t take off time to see the dentist.”

Since 2012, the volunteer dentists have performed an average of 1,000 extractions per year.

“There is definitely a need in our community, and even outside our community,” she said. “We’ve had people from as far as Memphis drive here to receive care.”