We all know it’s important to brush our teeth at least twice a day, floss and take care of our oral hygiene. But what about visiting the dentist? Many Virginians pay for dental costs out of pocket, making trips to the dentist a financial challenge. The Augusta Regional Dental Clinic is one of many free clinics in the state working to help reduce barriers to dental care.
Decades of care for rural Virginians
Since its opening day in 1993, the Augusta Regional Clinic has provided low-cost, quality healthcare to patients in Augusta, Staunton and Waynesboro. With 20 staff members and eight patient rooms, the clinic can see around 2,400 patients a year, many of them uninsured or on Medicaid. Sophie Parson, executive director at the clinic, says that accessibility is at the heart of who they are.
“Our mission is to look for gaps and be there for community members,” says Parson.
After it discontinued its primary care services and pharmacy in 2020, the clinic shifted its focus to dental care and rebranded itself as the Augusta Regional Dental Clinic. The change came at an opportune time – demand for dental services has skyrocketed in the past year due to the pandemic. Most dentists in the region have reopened but haven’t returned to full capacity. Now with new legislation impacting healthcare in Virginia, the clinic can serve more patients in need of dental care.
New coverage under Medicaid expansion
If you read our July 1 legislation roundup, you’ll know that Virginia recently expanded its Medicaid benefits to cover dental procedures. Around 750,000 adults statewide will now have access to preventative care and diagnostic treatment, including exams, x-rays and oral surgery. Before this expansion, Medicaid patients at Augusta Regional Dental Clinic were covered only for tooth extractions. The clinic has since experienced an influx of Medicaid patients eager to receive treatment.
“This is like a tsunami,” said Parson. “One day, I put 15 new patients on the record before lunch time.”
Prospective patients can simply call the clinic and fill out paperwork to determine if they’re eligible. Many are often seen within a matter of days or weeks. Patients with dental emergencies, like a broken tooth, can be seen by a staff member immediately.
In the future, Parson wants to expand dental services beyond the clinic and reach more community members in need, like those in assisted living facilities. For now, she’s spreading the word that all patients, even those without insurance, are welcome at the Augusta Regional Dental Clinic.
“It breaks our heart with patients staying in pain so long because they’re afraid they can’t afford care,” says Parson. “Please give us a call. Don’t stay in pain.”
The Augusta Regional Dental Clinic is a member of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. To learn more about the clinic, visit its website or follow it on Facebook.