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Pain in the Tooth

My wife and I like to vacation in remote places. A few months ago we were staying at a location with few conveniences and services available, and I woke up with a terrible tooth ache. Since then we have added proximity to a dentist and pharmacy to our criteria for selecting a vacation destination. I ended up using an emergency room to find relief from my tooth pain. As I was waiting to be examined, I realized I was having the same expensive and unpleasant experience many people in Gwinnett County have endured for years. I was inappropriately using a hospital to take care of a tooth I had been told to attend to, but didn’t. My excuse was a poor one – inconvenience – but many people have sat in the same seat because they did not have dental insurance and were unable to self-pay for dental procedures. After all, a root canal and crown for a molar can cost more than $2,500.

My tooth pain experience convinced me the Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett was indeed responding to a significant need when we added charity dental care to our list of services. Our new location opened in Norcross last summer and includes a six chair dental practice. Very quickly, we had nearly 800 people on a waiting list for a dental appointment. Since then, with the help of volunteers and a small staff of employees, we have provided more than 500 low cost dental appointments to uninsured and poor members of our community. Those appointments were for children and adults needing cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals, and various oral surgeries. Our fees are typically 20% of common prices for the same service, and our range of services is broad thanks to the many skills and years of experience our volunteer dental professionals bring to the clinic.

Yet, we still have uninsured poor people in need of dental care on a waiting list and more are added every day. Our capacity for addressing the dental care needs of the poor living in our community is directly related to the availability of volunteer dental professionals. While we have enjoyed the volunteer services of dozens of dental professionals, dozens more are needed to adequately address the needs in a timely fashion. We encourage dental assistants, dental hygienists, dentists, and oral surgeons to offer our patients a bit of time. We are able to keep our fees as affordable as they are only when volunteers deliver the majority of the dental services needed.

Looking at my own ER bill, I believe for every bad tooth treated at Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett rather than the emergency room, we will save the community hospital more than $1,000 in uncompensated care. That’s good for the patient, the hospital, and the insured individual who pays more to help offset that deficit. It makes good sense to volunteer in our dental clinic.

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