Restoring Smiles—Interfaith Dental Clinic
Two dentists, members of West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, had a calling to use their professional skills to help the poor. They traveled to impoverished countries on mission trips to serve, but when they came home, they also saw the effects of poverty right around them. They came up with a proposal, took it to their church where they found a supportive community, and shortly, the Interfaith Dental Clinic opened.
What began twenty-five years ago with two dental chairs and some volunteers working part-time in the church’s basement has grown to two fully equipped, 18-chair offices—one in Nashville, another 45 minutes away in Murfreesboro—and many more volunteers plus a few full-time staff, serving annually 2,800 people who have no other options. Dr. Rhonda Sitzer-Nadasdi, a dentist herself and also the chief executive of the Interfaith Dental Clinic, points out that neither Medicaid nor Medicare provides dental care. For people struggling with meeting needs for food, housing, and other basics, going to the dentist feels like a luxury they simply can’t afford.
Too often people don’t realize the essential nature of good oral care, which affects overall health, social contact, and economic opportunity. Research has confirmed a strong link between poor oral health and stroke, diabetes, heart issues, and cancer. Research has also shown how vital having good friends and other social contacts are to well-being, but persons with bad teeth don’t feel comfortable speaking or eating in front of others. They withdraw and become isolated and locked in depression. In a job interview, most potential employers within seconds screen out persons whose teeth are rotted, missing, or stained. Without a healthy smile, people suffer in surprising ways.
Dr. Sitzer-Nadasdi matches volunteers with patients. Nearly 200 dentists with many different specialties and other dental professionals such as hygienists and dental assistants give their time and expertise regularly, some once a week, some once a month, others as they can. Dental students and younger students exploring dentistry also volunteer. Retired dentists often serve as mentors as well as providers. Additional volunteers help welcome and comfort patients and give them the dental hygiene bags they’ve assembled. Still other volunteers bring their skills for accounting, data crunching, advocating for better policy, grant writing, and fundraising. Patients are charged on a sliding scale, based on income and family numbers, but the rest of the cost is covered by donations and grants.
Committed to providing long-term, comprehensive oral health care, done with dignity for the recipients, Interfaith Dental Clinic does not simply deal with emergencies such as extractions and alleviating acute pain, rather they seek to change lives. Restoring smiles is a great start!
To find out more or to volunteer, visit interfaithdentalclinic.com.
Many major cities, in addition to Nashville, have similar programs. Check in your local area, perhaps with your own dentist, to find one near you.