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Action for Dental Health

Mississippi Dental Clinic an “Oasis” in Once-Blighted Community

August 31, 2015

Dr. Joe Burns

During the late 1990s, the area surrounding the Rosedown Apartments in Jackson, Miss., was considered to be one of the most crime-ridden in the city.

Newspaper headline upon headline spotlighted the gritty violence riddling the West Park community. But through substantial efforts to improve the community, First Baptist Church of Jackson purchased the property where the apartments stood, and, with the help of countless supporters, built Mission First in 2001.

Now considered an “oasis” within the community, Mission First, a faith-based community outreach organization, is devoted to helping those in need by offering medical, dental, legal and spiritual help. Its medical and dental clinic serves more than 1,800 people each year.

“Most of the people who turn to Mission First are very appreciative,” said Dr. Joe Burns, a volunteer dentist at the clinic. “They’re regular, working folks. A lot of them have minimum wage jobs, or they’re in between jobs.” 

Patients are charged a nominal office visit fee based on income. People are not eligible if their household annual income is $30,000 or greater, or if they have private insurance or Medicaid. Dental procedures involving prosthetics, crowns or bridges require patients to pay for the actual supplies in addition to the office fee. However, the cost is much lower than it normally would be if the patient paid for the procedure.

There are 10 to 12 regular dental volunteers at the clinic, as well as a paid, part-time dentist, according to Dr. Burns. The clinic itself consists of four operatories, or dental chairs.

“This program was so popular that until recently, there was a two-year waiting list,” he said. “Now that fourth-year dental students and dental hygiene students rotate through the clinic, we’ve been able to whittle down the waiting time to something more manageable.”

The clinic’s dentists also may refer patients to volunteer endodontists, dentists who specialize in root canals and related procedures, who will treat the patients in their offices.

There is an added value to the treatment because it isn’t free, so patients are more likely to keep their appointments and schedule any follow-up treatment that may be necessary, he added. For the dentists who participate, it’s both convenient and rewarding.

“It’s something I can do consistently in my own hometown to help folks,” said Dr. Burns. “Doing this once a month, I know I’m helping my neighbors.”