The Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic serves a four-county area of the Blue Ridge Mountains — an economically challenged region of the southern United States, tucked away in the far western corner of North Carolina near the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain range. A mountainous and rural area, it is sparsely populated and offers limited commercial employment opportunities. A large percentage of the population is underemployed and without health care insurance.
Medicare does not provide any dental services, and while Medicaid provides limited dental assistance, large portions of the needy population, particularly the working poor, do not qualify for that program. As a result, many of our patients have gone for years or even a lifetime without preventative dental care. This leads to critical issues of tooth decay, infection and life-destroying situations where basic nutrition, employment and family life take a back seat to constant, and often debilitating, pain and embarrassment. In some cases, hospital emergency rooms and low-income medical clinics provide temporary treatment for pain and infection, but medicine alone cannot deal with the rotten teeth that must be addressed for the patient to have a normal life — or in some cases, even to survive. Restorative procedures such as complex fillings, root canals, crowns and dentures are necessary to restore a normal appearance and smile to people disfigured by dental disease. These procedures are simply not available to poor residents of the Blue Ridge Mountains, other than at the Free Dental Clinic.
The People We Serve
The Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic serves poverty-level patients from Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania Counties. We give priority to patients who, due to pain or infection, require dental treatment most urgently. Last year, 40% of the Clinic’s patients were from Jackson County and 38% from Macon County. 22% of our patients traveled to us from Swain and Transylvania County. We estimate that over 15,000 people in our serviceable counties meet the financial qualifications of the Clinic making them eligible for our services; 6,131 reside in Jackson County and 3,795 reside in Macon County. A combined 5,250 residents from Swain and Transylvania County are also eligible. As we enter our twelfth year of service, the Clinic continues see a great need for dental health care. We are motivated to remove the barriers that are preventing our neighbors from getting the high-quality care they need.
Qualifying for Treatment
To qualify, our patients can earn no more than 200% of the federal poverty level annually. In 2008, half earned less than 90% of the federal poverty level. None have dental health coverage or qualify for Medicaid dental services. Even basic preventative care is out of reach for most of our patients, and they certainly cannot afford the services necessary to deal with extensive and complex problems resulting from years of dental neglect. Without our assistance, critically needed treatment would not be available to these people, and hundreds of our patients would have no chance for a normal life. Read more about our patient eligibility guidelines.