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New dental clinic is a community effort

April 13, 2010|By TRISH RUDDER
  • W.Va. State Sen. John Unger listens Tuesday as Betty Russell gives a tour of the new Healthy Smiles Community Oral Health Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

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    MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Healthy Smiles Community Oral Health Center was dedicated on Tuesday morning to those who were instrumental in getting a dental clinic in the Eastern Panhandle.

    The 2,500-square-foot clinic on Warm Springs Drive in the north end of Martinsburg opened in early December and is available to everyone. The center takes patients with dental insurance, the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHiP) and Medicaid. It offers a sliding fee for patients without insurance, said Dave Fant, executive director of Shenandoah Community Health, which oversees Healthy Smiles.

    Nearly 100 people crowded into an unfinished office next to the center for the dedication, which was followed with a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside.

    Fant read off the names of numerous foundations, organizations and individuals who helped make the oral health center a reality. A plaque with those founders' names will hang inside Healthy Smiles, he said.

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"The community has worked so hard to bring resources together to provide this program," he said.

More than 5,000 procedures have been performed since the clinic opened and in about 90 days additional treatment rooms will be finished for the added dental staff, Fant said.

Volunteer Betty Russell, one of the center's founders, said the fundraising campaign for this year has already met the goal of $300,000 and it was a "grass roots campaign."

"The dental center is grass roots. It's for everybody," Russell said.

The funds will finish the dental rooms, help offset the cost of treatment for those who are unable to pay and provide $100,000 to create an endowment to keep the program going "as financial support for the future as needed," Fant said.

"It's a great honor that Shenandoah Health was asked to run it as part of the community health center and this integrates both medical and dental health ... to improve the overall health to Eastern Panhandle families," he said.

Keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told the founders "you have a sense of community but also courage" because they would not give up on their goal.

"It's a beautiful facility. What a great place for a child to get dental care," she said.

"Good teeth is more than just a smile; it's your whole being," Capito said.

"No one did this for their personal glory. It was because they saw a need and they used the talents of the community to make it work," Berkeley CountyCommissioner Bill Stubblefield said.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, presented a $90,000 certificate for the grant awarded from the West Virginia Community Partnership Program, which will be used to establish the new treatment rooms.

Unger said the Greek word koinonia is the empowerment of a community - "a community that comes together to accomplish things," he said.

He said when people in the community like Russell and fellow founder Mikki Van Wyk learned that 10,000 children in CHiP did not have access to dental care, they "saw that something had to be done."

"This is all about empowering people to make the project come together. And by empowering people with a healthy smile, it builds confidence," Unger said.

A smile is so important, he said. "Mother Teresa said she saw the face of God in a smiling child," Unger said.

Morgan County dentist Tom Leslie and his wife Toni Leslie are also founding members of Healthy Smiles. "It is truly a godsend to have a dental home for folks who did not," Tom Leslie said.

Toni Leslie said the Mission of Mercy (M.O.M.) free dental-care event will not be held in the Eastern Panhandle this year, but a M.O.M. event in Cumberland, Md., is scheduled for Oct. 29-30 at the Allegany County Fairgrounds.

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