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Dental clinic will continue meeting needs in western North Carolina

by Mike Creswell
Thursday, March 29, 2012 | 4 yrs old

A dental bus retired by NC Baptist Men after 22 years of service is finding a second life as a stationary dental clinic operated by Truett Baptist Association in Marble.

See a dentist for a toothache? It's routine for many North Carolinians but can be a challenge for many living in Cherokee and Clay counties in the far western part of our state.

That's why the new dental clinic is big news, said Mitchell Shields, Truett Association’s director of missions. The new clinic also stands as a lesson in how Baptist partnerships can help meet needs.

The 1989 Bluebird bus now sits to the right of Truett Association's office building on NC Highway 141, permanently parked on a concrete slab under an awning with steps to the entrance.

The engine and other parts of the vehicle's mechanical parts were worn out. This was its second engine and it had more than 100,000 miles of service. But the interior clinic with two chairs, X-ray machine and storage for supplies are all in good condition. Its interior was completely refurbished in 2001.

The Baptist State Convention originally provided a $140,000, interest-free loan to NC Baptist Men to buy the bus in 1988. It was soon being driven by volunteers all over the state for clinics to provide medical and dental care, one of two mobile units maintained by the ministry.

When the ailing Bluebird bus was replaced last October by a new truck-mounted Lifeline Mobile medical dental unit, it was decided to let Truett Association operate the Bluebird.

Joanne Honeycutt, NC Baptist Men coordinator for the statewide mobile medical/dental ministry, visited the association in December to train the Baptist volunteers who will be working with the new dental clinic, which will become an on-going ministry of Truett Baptist Association, staffed and operated by them.

"I found the folks to be just as excited about their 1989 bus as we were excited about our 2011 mobile unit," she said.

Honeycutt coordinates the schedule of the two mobile medical/dental units and the thousands of professional and lay volunteers required to keep them functional. The ministry delivers free care to more than 4,000 patients in scores of clinics held across North Carolina each year.

"We are so grateful that Truett Association had a desire to use a stationary dental clinic to meet the needs of people in that part of the state," said Richard Brunson, executive director of NC Baptist Men.

"God will continue to use this dental bus for many years to meet the physical and spiritual needs in the western part of the state," he said.

Shields said there's a tendency for local Baptists to think North Carolina Baptists imagine the state stops somewhere around Asheville. "But having the clinic has a tremendous impact on an increased sense of cooperation. We are working together," he said.

Shields has worked hard on still more partnerships to get the clinic into operation. A $6,000 grant from the NC Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) provided the concrete slab the clinic sits on.

"Many of our patients are older adults who have trouble getting access to dentists willing to accept their Medicare/Medicaid coverage," Shields explained. "They have to drive 60 or 70 miles to get a Medicare dentist."

A local church member donated the shelter; local construction workers and builders provided the excavation and grounds preparation.

"What you see right here has been a partnership with NCBAM, NC Baptist Men and local churches, coming together and working cooperatively," he said.

Shields said they are also working cooperatively with the Clay County Health Department, which also operates a dental clinic. "This morning they brought some dental burrs over because we didn't have what was needed," he said. But the Truett clinic will usually have needed supplies, because they are working with a company that provides free dental materials to non-profits.

Twelve patients were seen by volunteer dentist Julie Ledford, DDS, on its first day of operation, Feb. 24 this year.

Four dentists have committed to provide free dental care through the dental clinic, and a fifth dentist has said he will help after his upcoming retirement. Such numbers are needed for the ministry, because the overall number of dentists in relation to the population is low in the area, Shields said.

"Our primary concern is relieving pain. We have a lot of folks who are just hurting. We're trying to relieve that pain," he said. Currently the association has a list of about 175 prospective patients.

The medical/dental ministry of NC Baptist Men is funded through the North Carolina Missions Offering, taken up by many churches during September each year. But the new Lifeline Mobile unit has been partly paid for by gifts from the Duncan Foundation, the Friess Family Fund, the Goodwill Foundation, churches, summer camps, dental offices and individuals.

Honeycutt said $49,000 remains to be paid on the $450,000 cost of buying and equipping the new unit. For more information on the medical/dental ministry or to make a contribution for the new mobile unit, contact Honeycutt at jhoneycutt@ncbaptist.org or call (800) 395-5102 ext. 5603.