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Lisa Dunn

She's searching for smiles

She's searching for smiles

May 18, 2009|By MATTHER UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The children who receive dental care from Dr. Lisa Dunn are her "little munchkins."

The director of dental health programs at West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Eastern Division, has seen about 1,500 children since she was hired for what she calls her "dream job."

In January 2007, after about 16 years of working for the Jefferson County Health Department, Dunn took a role in a fledgling effort to provide dental services to thousands of Eastern Panhandle children who have gone without care.

Dunn, 46, provides preventive dental care for children who have little or no insurance, and services are fully covered for those enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP programs. A sliding-scale fee is offered to those who do not qualify for either of the government-funded programs.

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"I really had no clue as to what we would be able to accomplish," said Dunn, who lives in Martinsburg.

Much of the education outreach and preventive care Dunn has provided is in Jefferson and Berkeley counties, where there is a recognized shortage of dentists.

To fill the gap in available services, Dunn has taken a lead role in raising money to open a dental center, which she said is on track to open by the end of the summer.

"We're really excited," Dunn said.

The dental center is the last of a four-pronged effort that grew from the creation of the Eastern Panhandle Oral Health Task Force in 2005. Healthy Smiles of the Eastern Panhandle Inc. was formed in February 2008 and held a free, two-day Mission of Mercy dental clinic last June. Another clinic is scheduled for June 26 to 27 at Hedgesville High School.

What was supposed to take five years to accomplish is coming to fruition in fewer than three, she said.

Dunn said she would like to double the number of children she has seen and expects that will be possible, given that many people still are not aware of the services available.

"It is a lot easier to prevent cavities than it is to fix them," Dunn said.

While providing dental care to children, Dunn said she finds herself educating parents on the importance of practices such as not giving their children juice through a bottle.

A little creativity is needed to get a child to accept treatment, she said. Dunn has puppets, flavored medical gloves and SpongeBob SquarePants toothpaste.

"They all know SpongeBob," Dunn said. The "little ones" say 'Bob Bob."

Regardless of the tricks she has learned, Dunn said children still present a challenge.

"They're not always going to open (their mouths) just because you say 'Open,'" she said.

Q&A with Lisa Dunn



Resides in: Martinsburg, W.Va.

Occupation: Director of Dental Health Programs, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Eastern Division

Q: What is your proudest moment?

A: Successfully applying for a $90,000 grant in the first application she completed by herself, Dunn said.

Q: Whom do you most admire, and why?

A: United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. "They help so many people. The people that work there ... their hearts are just so into it."

Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received, and who gave it to you?

A: A woman who worked at a dental clinic in Richmond, Va., said, "Call, call, call!" to get people to come in for dental care.

Q: What is the next goal you would like to achieve?

A: Dunn said she would like to double the number of Medicaid and SCHIP-eligible children she has seen.

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