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Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic

Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic

Dental cleaning at free clinic

“Oral health is an important precursor to physical and mental health. Without proper care and maintenance, poor oral health can lead to a number of preventable diseases and ailments that can be costly to treat. Further, those struggling with poor dental health, including broken and decayed teeth, tend to experience shame and embarrassment of their condition. It’s common for folks in need of dental care to hide their smiles and even avoid social interaction, leading to isolation and depression,” says Melanie Jones, Executive Director at Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic.

Despite the intrinsic link between oral health and other health outcomes there are multiple barriers for folks to access dental care, especially for low-income families living in rural areas. “Amidst an acute shortage of dental care providers, many rural residents lack dental coverage and cannot pay the out-of-pocket expenses, which can be more than three times higher than out-of-pocket expenses for medical care. This causes many people to delay seeking necessary care until their condition becomes an emergency,” says Melanie. In WNC, the number of emergency department visits for dental care is higher than the state rate and more than three times the national rate. Though emergency departments and primary care physicians can and do respond to dental emergencies, they tend to have limited resources for proper treatment as compared to a specialized oral and dental health facility.

Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic (BRFDC) exists to fill the gap in rural care by delivering high-quality emergency, restorative, and preventative dental services to those in Jackson, Macon, Swain, Haywood, and Transylvania counties who otherwise could not afford it. Since 2005, BRFDC has performed over 68,000 procedures over more than 20,000 patient visits, with the value of free care provided exceeding $10 million. They also provide outreach and education in schools and throughout the community to address disparities in oral health literacy. BRFDC receives patients referred to their clinic by community partners including Vecinos, Blue Ridge Health, Veterans Affairs, SAFE of Transylvania County, Community Care Clinic and more. 

With a grant from Dogwood, BRFDC succeeded in surpassing nearly every goal they set for increasing access to dental care in WNC between 2021 and 2022. They received over 1,400 patient visits and performed 1,390 emergency procedures, 1,662 restorative procedures and 423 preventative procedures. Regarding preventative procedures, that figure represents the highest number of such procedures performed in one year since BRFDC’s inception. In partnership with Vecinos and the International Friendship Center, BRFDC provided 218 members of the Hispanic and Latino community with education, clinical procedures and outreach materials. Through seven community events, they reached an estimated 5,000 community members, and 711 students in Jackson and Macon counties received dental health education, screenings, and fluoride varnish treatments.  

Patients come to the clinic from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, some of which may complicate the logistics of their treatment. “One patient revealed a history of multiple occurrences of cancer that were treated with radiation, leaving the patient vulnerable to infections,” Melanie explains. “The patient’s oncologist recommended a treatment that would make the healing process safer, however this specialized treatment was far too expensive for the patient. BRFDC was able to recommend an alternative treatment which would completely restore the patient’s oral health and spare him from the enormous expense of the oncologist’s recommended treatment.”

The gratitude and enthusiasm of their patients is perhaps the most compelling evidence of BRFDC’s impact. Testimonials from patients and community partners reveal how important and valued the clinic is for the services they provide.  

“Thank you – you have given me back my smile. I never thought I would keep my hand away from my mouth.” 

– Linda, BRFDC Patient

“I truly just want to express from the bottom of my heart how much this means to me and how grateful I am. This is life changing. You helped make my dream come true.”

– Bridgett, BRFDC Patient

“Words can’t find my lips to say how thankful I am for this gift. You will all have a special place in my heart! Now I can smile and not feel ashamed.”

– Lauren, BRFDC Patient

“I want to express my sincere appreciation for the admission, care, and treatment for my many dental problems on Veterans Free Dental Day. I feel truly blessed by the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic.”

– Dave (AKA “A very grateful vet”), BRFDC Patient

“I just wanted to say thank you for being at our health fair, giving fluoride treatments, and teaching our kids about dental health this year. The Clinic is an incredible asset in our community, and we are grateful for you all.” 

– Danielle, Blue Ridge School Nurse, BRFDC Community Partner

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Health & Wellness | Goal 4

Increase Access to Behavioral Health and Substance Use Prevention and Treatment

Support programs and networks that reduce deaths, treat addiction, and prevent first use

Objective 4.1: Reduce opioid overdose mortality throughout the region

Objective 4.2: Reduce untreated behavioral health and substance use disorder in disproportionately affected communities

Objective 4.3: Prevent and reduce behavioral health issues and substance use (tobacco, alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs) in youth

Health & Wellness | Goal 3

Address Health Disparities

Help reduce disparities based on race, location, education and income factors

Objective 3.1: Improve health outcomes for women and infants in rural and low-income communities and communities of color

Objective 3.2: Reduce the prevalence of common chronic health diseases in disproportionately affected communities

Objective 3.3: Increase effectiveness of health care through delivery of culturally aligned services

Health & Wellness | Goal 2

Increase Access to Whole-Person Health Care

Invest in integrated heath care with seamless connections to supportive services

Objective 2.1: Increase the number of people with affordable health insurance coverage

Objective 2.2: Increase the available workforce for primary and allied health care services

Objective 2.3: Increase access to comprehensive and integrated care

Objective 2.4: Increase access to community-based services in low-income, elderly and rural communities

Health & Wellness | Goal 1

Support and Build Healthy Communities

Support communities that promote healthy living and resiliency and help mitigate the impact of trauma, isolation and stress on individuals and families, especially those experiencing poverty

Objective 1.1: Decrease adverse experiences (ACEs and traumatic violence) and improve individual and family resiliency

Objective 1.2: Increase access to community environments that promote healthy living and social connectedness across the age continuum

Economic Opportunity | Goal 4

Foster Entrepreneurship

Support a well-funded, sustainable, competitive entrepreneur and small business ecosystem throughout the region

Objective 4.1: Increase the number of Person of Color (POC)-led small businesses throughout the region

Objective 4.2: Increase the number of rural small businesses throughout the region

Economic Opportunity | Goal 3

Build Economic Ecosystems

Help build a regional economic ecosystem that supports increased creation/retention of jobs and business ownership

Objective 3.1: Improve access to higher-paying jobs throughout the region, targeting the lowest income populations

Objective 3.2: Increase and retain quality jobs

Objective 3.3: Stimulate economic growth, catalyzing businesses and revenue

Economic Opportunity | Goal 2

Promote Work Readiness

Help build a skilled workforce with the knowledge and technical abilities to excel in a wide range of industry employment opportunities that provide a competitive, sustainable wage

Objective 2.1: Close the educational attainment gap in WNC, staying on pace with regional and county-specific projections (myFutureNC 2030).

Economic Opportunity | Goal 1

Develop a Comprehensive Data Resource

Source, analyze and share a comprehensive, county-by-county data set that paints a full picture of work readiness, economic development and entrepreneurial needs and opportunities specific to Western North Carolina

Education | Goal 3

Support Higher Education Career Readiness

Work in tandem with Economic Opportunity Strategic Priority to invest in career readiness at the community college and university levels

Objective 4.1: Close the educational attainment gap in WNC, staying on pace with regional and county-specific projections (myFutureNC 2030).

Education | Goal 2

Improve K-12 Education

Support K-12 learning experiences with the resources and sustainability to provide an excellent academic and social-emotional education, so that all students graduate ready for college or career

Objective 2.1: Address teacher workforce challenges

Objective 2.2: Equip families of students to support academic growth and social-emotional health

Objective 2.3: Increase capacity of partners to provide supports and services, particularly for children facing challenges related to poverty, systemic racism, being differently abled or English language learners

Education | Goal 1

Improve Early Childhood Education Ecosystem

Invest in an improved early childhood education ecosystem with the resources and sustainability to provide developmentally appropriate, affordable and accessible education and care to support ages birth to five, so that all children in WNC enter kindergarten ready to learn

Objective: Address early childhood educator workforce challenges

Education | Goal 4

Develop a Comprehensive Landscape Study

Source, analyze and share a comprehensive set of publicly available data that provides a regularly updated, county-by-county picture of access, workforce and student outcomes in early childhood education and K-12 education specific to Western North Carolina

Housing | Goal 5

Use Impact Investments to Create Affordable and Workforce Housing

Loans, guarantees, and other financial tools to leverage funding opportunities

Housing | Goal 4

Create and Preserve Housing Units for Persons Below 50% of the Median Income

Increase affordable housing for lowest-income individuals and families

Objective 4.1: Create rental units for households below 50% of the median income

Objective 4.2: Help families pay no more than 30% of their income on housing

Objective 4.3: Create and preserve communities in a way that is representative of the WNC natural landscape

Housing | Goal 3

Create and Preserve Senior Housing

Support age-appropriate resources in affordable and workforce units, rental and owned

Objective 3.1: Create needed rental and homeownership opportunities for seniors

Objective 3.2: Incorporate supportive services in rental housing developments

Objective 3.3: Increase use of universal design in development

Housing | Goal 2

Create and Preserve Supportive Housing Rental Units

Invest in housing with sustainable supports for physical and mental health and wellbeing

Objective 2.1: Create new supportive housing

Objective 2.2: Preserve existing supportive housing

Objective 2.3: Leverage state and federal funds

Single story home in the midst of being build with 3 volunteers helping.

Housing | Goal 1

Support Healthy and Safe Revitalization Opportunities

Support healthy and safe revitalizations that work against displacement and gentrification, preserve home ownership and create generational wealth.

Objective 1.1: Revitalize Neighborhoods

Objective 1.2: Repurpose existing structures to minimize environmental impact

Objective 1.3: Support home ownership