By Jill Penley
Last year dentists and hygienists with Appalachian Miles for Smiles treated approximately 100 people in Johnson County and with the organization planning another two-day clinic this June, appointments are now being booked for those who have no dental insurance, but need dental care.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Ellen Watkins, Johnson County’s Red Cross Coordinator and organizer of the event. “I quit counting after 400 phone calls, and I had a waiting list of almost 50 people in case some of the clients failed to show up for the appointments.”
A few years ago, in her capacity as a Red Cross volunteer, Watkins approached staff affiliated with Appalachian Miles for Smiles inquiring as to why they failed to include Johnson County in the organization’s areas of service. Last year’s dental clinic was a result of Watkins reaching out for help for the residents of Johnson County.
The Appalachian Miles for Smiles Mobile Dental Unit, a five-treatment bay, state-of-the-art dental clinic, is equipped to be operational at any remote location 30 minutes after arrival. The unit was made possible through a collaboration of several organizations, businesses, and civic clubs. Volunteers are responsible for completing the specialized construction unit.
The volunteer effort is supervised by Frank Waldo, co-owner of Tele-Optics Inc. and global volunteer. “Having volunteers do the construction of this unit enabled the project to be completed at a fraction of the commercial cost and led to a design that is far more flexible and adaptable than one purchased from a custom design manufacturer,” said Waldo.
Appalachian Miles for Smiles, a Christian outreach program, currently serves areas in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The program is an additional outreach of “Friends in Need,” a non-profit organization founded in 1995 in Kingsport, which provides both primary medical and dental care where payments are on a sliding scale, based on the federal poverty level.
“Based on research that was done a couple of years ago, there are 31 million people in the United States who are underinsured,” said Bruce Sites, executive director of Friends in Need. “Our area is no exception to that. We have a number of people underinsured, so there’s definitely a need out there.”
The Miles for Smiles mobile unit is expected to be in Johnson County Thursday and Friday, June 21 and 22, from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Patients will be seen by appointment only, and appointments can be made by calling Ellen Watkins at 423-426-3093.
“The Appalachian Miles for Smiles unit is limited to 100 patients, 50 per day,” said Watkins, “and we still need help with the costs of food and housing the staff while they are here.”
For more information about Appalachian Miles for Smiles, visit www.amfsmiles.org. To schedule an appointment or to make a donation for the upcoming Johnson County clinic, call Ellen Watkins at 423-426-3093.