Does anyone actually enjoy going to the dentist? Our theory is no, probably not. You have to keep your mouth wide open while someone pokes your teeth with sharp objects, and then, sometimes even with insurance, you have to pay a sizable bill. For people without insurance, the astronomical cost of dental care is an insurmountable barrier, leading to potentially major health issues.
But there’s good news out there. Two Mount Pleasant clinics offer free dental services to people in need, and that is a reason to smile.
Shifa Clinic in Mount Pleasant, SC
From their home on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, the Shifa Clinic offers comprehensive care to uninsured, lowincome adult residents of the community regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. Their roots are in the Islamic faith, and their services include dental care.
Dr. Andy Kloch has volunteered for Shifa since the dental clinic opened in 2018. “Several years ago, I received information that Shifa was hosting a medical and dental screening event for the Head Start Program and was requesting volunteers,” he said. “I decided to volunteer that day, and it changed my life.”
Services offered at the dental clinic, free of charge, include exams, panoramic radiographs, fillings, extractions and cleanings. Dr. Kloch would like to offer more complex procedures — such as crowns/bridges, root canal therapies and dentures — in the future, but he said, “those procedures require more supplies and equipment that we currently do not have.”
At Shifa, it’s not just the dental work that is free. The facility is dedicated to its clients and their overall well-being. “A mother visited the Shifa Clinic with her children for their wellchild appointments,” recalled Dr. Kloch. “The nurse practitioner noticed the mother was in discomfort and determined it was a severe toothache. I was in the clinic that day and made room in my schedule to treat her and alleviate her pain. The family ended their appointments with a visit to the Shifa Clinic’s food pantry for healthy meal options for the week. The family received primary care treatment, dental treatment and nutritious food in one visit.”
East Cooper Community Outreach in Mount Pleasant, SC
East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) operates in a similar way, providing numerous services to people in the community who need assistance. Founded as an emergency relief effort in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo, ECCO is now a permanent resource for the community with three main program areas: basic needs, health services and empowerment. They provide dental care, free of charge, to those who need it. The dental care options are twofold: there’s a regular clinic that provides routine maintenance and care, as well as an extraction clinic to remove teeth as needed.
Don Squires is the director of development and marketing at ECCO. “The Clinic is a dental home for ECCO’s adult clients,” he said. “Many have never been to a dentist before. They receive services and procedures to include comprehensive oral exams, health screenings, X-rays, cleanings, fillings, partial dentures, personalized consultations and individualized treatment plans, in addition to access to extractions. During each visit, patients receive oral hygiene instruction to learn the relationship between dental diseases and overall health, the importance of ongoing oral care and maintaining a healthy mouth.”
Last year, ECCO provided over $532,000 in dental services to 697 local individuals, all free of charge, thanks in large part to a close collaboration with MUSC’s James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine and their fourth-year students who volunteer their time at ECCO.
One patient, called “Mr. T,” stands out in memory. Mr. T has made use of many of ECCO’s services, including regular cleanings, fillings and a partial denture. “Last summer,” Squires said, “Mr. T made it a point to walk to ECCO on one of the hottest days to meet with our director of programs to express his appreciation for everything ECCO has done and continues to do for him.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected both clinics significantly. Appointments at Shifa Clinic have been cut from two days per week to one, as volunteer dentists have been harder to come by and social distancing guidelines require fewer people in the office at a time. ECCO had to close their standard clinic, keeping only their extraction clinic open for emergencies. Both organizations hope to return to business as usual as more and more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
By Leah Rhyne