WISE — Of the thousands of people who have come to one of the Wise County Remote Area Medical and dental clinics during the past 20 years, Dr. Teresa Tyson recalled the anguish of one brave little boy whose decayed teeth caused so much distress, he just wanted them pulled.
“He told the dentist, ‘even if I cry, don’t stop because they hurt so bad,’” Tyson said Friday during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Health Wagon’s new state-of-the-art dental facility.
Tyson, president and CEO of the Health Wagon, was among many speakers who expressed appreciation for the donations and support to establish the 5,000-square-foot, 10-patient clinic on land adjacent to their Smiddy Clinic in Wise.
“This new 10-chair clinic will give us the ability to provide oral health care that includes cleanings, fillings and extractions in addition to novel concepts like laser dentistry and 3-D printing of dentures,” Tyson said.
“I have to say, this has been a dream of mine come true since sitting in a trailer office in Dickenson County. Sister Bernie [Health Wagon founder Bernie Kenny] and I would have our patients come to us. They would have dental abscesses; we would treat them with antibiotics and tell them ‘you absolutely have to go to the dentist.’ That never happened. They didn’t have the money to go to the dentist or dental insurance. They would return a couple weeks later and we would repeat the same scenario,” Tyson said.
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“This clinic enables us to follow our mission of providing compassionate, quality health care for the medically underserved here in Appalachia. We have a very vulnerable population here with significant health care disparities. This clinic will give us the ability to deliver collaborative partnerships to address the oral health care disparities due to lack of dental access,” Tyson said.
Kenny attended and participated in the ceremonial shoveling of dirt — even though the actual pad is already graded out nearby. The clinic is expected to open later this year.
“This is the fulfillment of a dream. It was a nightmare seeing the same people coming back every month with the same problem. We are blessed,” Kenny said.
In 2021, the Health Wagon treated more than 2,100 dental patients in a two-chair mobile clinic inside a trailer.
Dentist Dr. Olivia Stallard is looking forward to the opportunities the new clinic offers.
“This is a blessing and a dream come true,” Stallard said. “So many people don’t have access to dental care and we’re breaking ground on a clinic that is going to change a lot of people’s lives.”
The dental clinic will partner with the new dental school opening this fall at Lincoln Memorial University and provide clinical opportunities for those students.
“In a dental desert to have a dental school come in and accept our boys and girls to dental school — kids from this area that can, four years from now, treat their own relatives with high quality dental care,” Dr. Joseph Smiddy, chair of the Health Wagon board said after the ceremony. “This is a partnership where our donors have made it all happen. LMU gives us the academic credibility and the dental school and the Health Wagon is here doing the Lord’s work so this is an exciting day for us.”
U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner sent video messages of support and noted the $1.25 million federal grant they secured which paid for equipment in the facility.