Editorial: RAM, new team bring dental care to region’s needy | Editorials

Two things to remember if you need dental treatment but can’t afford it: You’re not alone, and help is available. But it won’t come knocking. You’ve got to go get it.

One place to turn is Remote Area Medical (RAM). RAM provides free medical services to rural Americans via traveling clinics that operate throughout the country. Since it was founded in 1985, RAM has treated more than 888,000 individuals delivering more than $181.5 million worth of free health care services. As well, it provides free veterinary services.

RAM held clinics at the Appalachian Fairgrounds at Gray last November and Hazard, Kentucky, last month. It will host a clinic at Grundy, Virginia, on Oct. 1 and 2.

The need is so great, it’s tough to get in.

Just ask Frank Waldo, co-owner of Tele-Optics of Kingsport. In 2016, Waldo started Appalachian Miles for Smiles after seeing a woman who needed dental help but was unable to receive it due to chairs already being full at a Remote Area Medical event.

Waldo prayed about how he could help.

He spoke with the United Way of Greater Kingsport about his proposal for a tractor-trailer with medical equipment. United Way asked him to build it and he undertook the project. Now, Appalachian Miles for Smiles has given back $4 million in dental and vision help over the past five years.

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An agreement among three partners kicked off a two-day free dental clinic held at the Kingsport Farmers Market in early June, where it was announced that Lincoln Memorial University will partner with Appalachian Miles for Smiles and the Health Wagon to provide services throughout the Tri-Cities region.

“Oral health is our health,” said Dr. Joe Skiddy, board member for the Health Wagon. LMU will be opening a college of dentistry in September. The college has received a $3.3 million grant to bring dentistry to parts of rural Tennessee, so the partnership among LMU and the two nonprofits will help the most needy in the region.

LMU President Clayton Hess, LMU College of Dental Medicine Dean Denise Terese-Koch and Waldo signed a memorandum of agreement for the partnership.

There are currently 18,000 people in Sullivan County who are either uninsured or underinsured for dental treatment, Waldo said. With the help of LMU, the nonprofit will now be able to provide that needed assistance.

“That’s what runs Appalachian Miles for Smiles,” Waldo said. “Loving your neighbor as you love yourself.”

If you need immediate dental help, you will need to pursue other options. But keep an eye on RAM’s schedule at ramusa.org/pop-up-clinics/ and Miles for Smiles at amfsmiles.org.

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