Providing critical dental treatment to the needy in Jackson Macon Swain & Transylvania Counties of Western North Carolina

Patient Stories

To protect the privacy of our patients, names in the following stories have been changed.

Chelsea Jones

Chelsea Jones wrenched our hearts from the moment she walked into the Clinic. At the age of 29, she had reached the unhappy realization that her life was in shambles. The single mother of three children, she did not have two dimes to rub together. She had recently lost her job due to her unsightly appearance, although she is not unattractive. It was her teeth that had led to her job loss, and as soon as we looked at her X-rays, we knew that her problems were much worse than a little visible decay. Every tooth in her mouth was deeply decayed and abscessed; her chart read "most teeth are hopeless." She would need full dentures. She was in tears – unhappy at the prospect of losing all of her teeth, and completely unable to afford even a portion of the cost.

Thanks to a prosthetics grant from the GlaxoSmithKline Ribbon of Hope Program, we were able to provide her that very day with the funds to buy the dentures she would need. She was still crying as she left the office, but now exclaiming that no one had ever done anything that nice for her! She was off to get her first, temporary set. All of us were visibly moved by her emotion.

Two weeks later, Chelsea was back, excited and all smiles. She had her new dentures in hand, had arranged for her family to baby-sit her children for a week, and said she couldn't wait – unusual behavior for a person facing mass dental extractions. She wanted us to pull all of her teeth that day! Dr. Smith wished he could comply, but was concerned about the amount of anesthetic that would be required, so we set her up with an additional appointment two days later and agreed to pull all of her uppers that day, and all of her lowers at her next appointment. Dr. Smith then surgically extracted her 16 upper teeth. Several of them were nothing but root nubs, and the extractions were challenging. But Chelsea left the office wearing a new upper denture, grinning ear to ear. She was just as happy at her next appointment, when Dr. Smith removed all of her lower teeth and fitted the lower denture.

We are continuing to follow up with Chelsea. She is now under the care of Dr. Jones, a denture and TMJ specialist who volunteers his time at the Clinic monthly. As her gums continue to heal and change, the temporary dentures must be re-adjusted. But she will eventually get permanent dentures that fit snugly and comfortably. Meanwhile, Chelsea is one ecstatic lady.

Wanda Porter

Wanda Porter, age 47, was an abused housewife trying to start a new life. The last time she had contact with her ex-husband, he beat her, and when she was down, kicked her in the mouth and broke most of the remaining teeth that had not been knocked out before. She has escaped him.

She could not locate a dentist who would take payments to remove teeth and help her get dentures, and had been to a local emergency room several times with abscesses. She finally saw an ER doctor who has referred patients to us in the past. He advised her to call us for help.

We extracted nearly all her teeth that had been damaged by her ex-husband. She had pain so severe, she practically lived at the ER. They finally would not see her anymore. Hopefully, the remaining teeth will sustain partial dentures.

We have treated other abused women from various shelters. In nearly all the cases, we have had to remove a majority of teeth that had been damaged from continuous beatings and kickings. The shelters had not been able to find dentists willing to help the women by not charging for their services. Our director met a volunteer from REACH at a gathering in Highlands who passed our name around to the shelters, and the calls began.

The stories are basically all the same. The women endured beatings for years and have now gotten away from their abusers, but need help in turning their lives around. We have been fortunate to be involved in helping them.

Jeremy Fromm

Jeremy Fromm is a 52-year-old man who walked in one day, stating he was sent to us by the Good Samaritan Clinic in Sylva. He was a heavy drinker and smoker who had suffered a heart attack and was advised by the medical doctor at the clinic to have his teeth removed due to severe infection. Jeremy actually drank because the pain from his teeth was so severe. He could not work and lived in the woods in a tent.

At his initial visit, we had to put him on antibiotics to get the infection under control and get a release from his doctor to treat him. We saw him one week later and began removing teeth. Over a six-month period, we removed all the abscessed teeth and cleaned the teeth that could be saved so he could wear an upper denture and a lower partial denture.

Jeremy actually walked 10 miles to get to his appointments with us and walked to Sylva when he needed to see the doctor. During those months, an amazing transformation began. As the painful teeth were removed, he slowed down his drinking. We lectured him on the smoking and he began to reduce his smoking as well.

During one of his last appointments, he walked into the office, and we were all stunned. Our director said, “My God, Jeremy, you are absolutely handsome!!” He had bathed, dressed in clean clothes, and was clean shaven. He had stopped drinking, as he had no more dental pain. He was smoking only one or two cigarettes a day and planned to stop completely in a few weeks. He found a small apartment in a garage and was able to find a part time job with the county doing road work. He was so proud of how he looked. We were so proud as well. The last we heard, he was now working full time and had a girlfriend!

A new man with a new life.

Lesley Cramer

Lesley Cramer came to us at the age of 16. At the time, teachers at her school had approached several dentists in the Robbinsville area seeking help with Lesley’s teeth. Her family could not afford dental care for her, and her teeth were in such bad shape, she was withdrawn and ashamed to talk to people eye to eye, as they would see her teeth. A lovely girl, but shut out of the world.

Her school nurse heard about the Free Dental Clinic and called to see if we could help Lesley. We had her come in for a consultation and began work on her immediately. We could not save her four upper anterior teeth. She had to lose three other molars and required fillings in nearly all her upper remaining teeth and lower molars.

One of the teachers told his dentist about all the work we were doing for this Robbinsville girl, and the dentist gave in and promised to make a partial denture for her upper teeth. Once he saw how good the restorative work was in Lesley’s mouth, he made a partial that was magnificent and would grow with her.

We removed the upper teeth and placed the partial. We had her smile and look at herself in a mirror. She was moved to tears by how good she looked. And what a wonderful smile! We finished up the remaining work for her, which also included a good cleaning and care instructions. Each time we saw Lesley, we could tell she was following her care instructions. Her confidence increased. She would come in with a smile and look at us eye-to-eye. She even went back to a restaurant that refused to hire her before, and once she smiled, she was hired. She was able to buy some new clothes and other things a young lady needs. She became more involved in her school. Her grades improved, and the last time we spoke with her grandmother, she was talking about college.

It takes just a little help to improve a life and give someone a chance at a great future.

Denice Conway

Denice Conway is a 28-year-old wife and mother who came to us from Robbinsville in severe pain. The last remaining “good” tooth she had simply fell out one day, and she was in a panic. Following a panorex x-ray to diagnose her problem, a cyst was found in the area where the tooth had been lost.

Due to her history of smoking, the radioluscency was indeed suspicious looking. An oral surgeon was needed to do a biopsy. The North Carolina School of Dentistry agreed to study the biopsy at no cost, but we needed a surgeon to remove it. After several telephone calls to oral surgeons failed to obtain any assistance, our dentist decided we would have to do the biopsy. Thankfully, it came back showing no malignancies. Unfortunately, due to the severe bone loss, all her lower teeth had to be removed. The decision was made by her to have her upper teeth removed as well, as it would have taken restorations in nearly all her upper teeth and most would have probably been lost in the end.

The extractions were done and immediate dentures placed. We were able to assist her with 50% of the cost. The teeth fit great and she looked wonderful. During this process, she had quit smoking as well. The thought of a malignancy in her mouth scared her. Denice’s work was completed a couple weeks before Christmas. She told us that for the first time, she was in the family Christmas picture with a huge smile. No one teased her this year. Everyone ended up crying with joy at how wonderful she looked.

Once again, the smile helped to restore confidence leading to an almost immediate improvement in her life: better health, better marriage, better life. Her husband was in the process of quitting smoking as well. The change in his wife made him want to change as well. It was a very good ending to a somewhat scary beginning. We will be following up in June with another panorex to check the area where the cyst was removed. We anticipate no additional problems.

Celine Tracy

Celine Tracy is a 36-year-old single mother, going to school and trying to build a new life for herself and her two children. She was working full time and going to college part time. Child care took a great deal of her salary.

As her teeth decayed to the point of pain, she tried to pay for services at the local Health Department but was not able to afford those fees. The Health Department gave her the number for the Free Dental Clinic. She did not know such a place existed. She had called several dentists to see if she could set up a payment plan with them, with no success.

Celine came to us on an emergency basis with a huge abscess. She had missed work and had very little sleep for weeks. Dental pain is always worse at night. Celine had decay in nine teeth and was on the brink of losing them. Our dentists were able to save the teeth with many fillings and to place a crown on an old root canal tooth that was coming close to being lost. Celine had dealt with tooth pain for over two years. She was now pain free and able to get on with her life. She has another year of college classes to take, but can do so without the horrific pain she had suffered.

Eric and Nancy Coleman

Eric and Nancy Coleman are a retired couple living on a small fixed income. Dental emergencies had taken most of their savings. They were desperate for help, as they had very little money left. They were referred to our office by the Health Department of Jackson County. Both had severe decay and had to lose several teeth. Eric had been dealing with severe pain for years, but he did not have the funds to pay the huge dental charges. We were able to save several teeth for them, including placing a crown on an anterior tooth for Eric.

Without the care they received from the Clinic, both patients would have ended up in full dentures. Instead, they were able to keep their teeth and gain a better understanding of how to care for them. Eric and Nancy are a very sweet couple who just needed a little help to get them out of severe pain and allow them to enjoy their life going forward.

Miguel Tamburro

Miguel Tamburro is a five year old Hispanic boy who was not allowed to register for kindergarten, as he was suffering from a huge abscess on an upper anterior baby tooth. The swelling was so severe that his upper lip blocked his nasal passages, forcing him to breathe through his mouth. His father had taken Miguel to several dentists, but without funds to pay for services rendered, none of the dentists would see him.

The school’s social worker advised him to bring the boy to our office. It only took one look for us to bring him back and have the dentist examine him. No x-ray was necessary. The little boy sat bravely and quietly, never shedding a tear while we numbed up the area. In just a few seconds, we removed the baby tooth and drained as much of the infection as we could. He was at least able to breathe through his nose when we were done. He gave each of us a hug as thanks. Once he saw his mother, of course the tears began.

Miguel was such a brave boy. His father gave us his last 26 cents as a donation. We all agreed it was the best and most generous donation we had ever received.

Christopher and Katie Watson

Christopher and Katie Watson originally began coming to the Clinic when we first worked out of a Dental Bus. They have suffered with dental problems for years. Due to their multiple medical problems, including cancer, they have not been able to work full time and thus did not have any type of insurance until they were able to get on disability.

Many of their medical problems developed due to poor diet. With extreme dental pain and the loss of many abscessed teeth, they simply were not able to eat a proper diet. Their dental care with us has been spread out over five years, as they would be interrupted by one medical crisis after another.

Four months ago, we were able to complete their care enough for them to be ready for upper and lower partial dentures. Christopher and Katie were fitted for them by Affordable Dentures and have actually begun to eat a well-balanced diet. Their medical doctors have stated all along that diet was a key to their wellness. With dental pain no longer a daily issue for them, hopefully the Watsons are on the road to good nutrition and good health.

Greg and Thelma Christianson

Greg and Thelma Christianson came to us via the Mission of Mercy Free Clinic at the Jackson County Health Department. We continued to treat them at the Clinic in Cashiers. This was not always an easy trip for them from Sylva, as Thelma suffered from MS and Greg was on disability due to back problems and was recovering from addictions. Their car was in bad shape, and any extra money they saved ended up being spent on the car.

They had both suffered from extreme dental pain for years. They could not afford to see a dentist, so did the best they could with visits to the emergency room and to free clinics. We began to repair the teeth we could for the Christiansons and removed those that could not be saved.

Both began to take good care of their teeth, even to the point of beginning smoking cessation programs. They followed our instructions in dental care, and with many fillings and a couple of root canals, we were able to save the majority of their teeth. Thanks to a grant by the Cullasaja Women’s Club, we were able to pay for crowns for Greg and Thelma.

They have been discharged as patients at the Clinic and both have begun the trip back to more normal lives. Thelma has begun to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, although her MS limits her in daily hours and in what she can do. Greg has begun to play guitar for a rock and roll band in area clubs and has even made a CD. He hopes to continue to do well in this new venture and make a good living for both himself and Thelma.

Joe Joiner, David Porter, Daniel Vaughn, Charles Crisp, John Green and Frank Thorpe

Joe Joiner, David Porter, Daniel Vaughn, Charles Crisp, John Green and Frank Thorpe came to us from Teen Challenge, a rehab center that treats addiction through spiritual healing at God’s hand. All three had done severe damage to their teeth as a result of their addictions, with methamphetamine being the worst culprit. Since they were in recovery, they could not take most medications for their dental pain and were not able to obtain help for their dental problems in their local areas.

The young men suffered from horrendously abscessed teeth as a result of no dental care. Over time, we were able to treat all of their dental pain. These young men suffered greatly during their time with us. They pursued their rehabilitation with God and with the Free Dental Clinic. All six young men continue to remain drug free. Two of them work for Teen Challenge and call us from time to time to help with a new person in their care. The other four are back out in society, working hard to make better lives for themselves. This was a hard push for all of them. There was nothing easy about any of it.

Douglas Stevens

Douglas Stevens of Haywood County came to us on referral from his medical doctor, who had admitted him to the hospital with an apparent heart attack. Mr. Stevens was in extremely poor health, living on disability due to his heart. His medical doctor did every test he could to find the cause of the massive infection that continued to attack Mr. Stevens’ body. There did not appear to be that much damage to his heart, at least not enough to explain Mr. Stevens’ grave situation.

It occurred to his physician that Mr. Stevens’ poor dental health could be a large part of the equation. The physician did not believe Mr. Stevens was going to live much longer with such a massive infection coursing through his body. The physician began to contact oral surgeons in his area to see if one could be found to assist his patient. The least expensive one stated that it would cost $3,000 to help him, and it would need to be paid up front. Mr. Stevens did not have such funds.

Finally, one of the dentists mentioned the Free Clinic to the doctor, and he called our office. We agreed to see Mr. Stevens immediately. His physician discharged him the same day he came to see us. The massive infection in his mouth was appalling. We surgically removed all of his remaining upper teeth that day, as the worst infections seemed to be in the upper teeth.

Within two weeks, Mr. Stevens and his physician saw the change in him. Two weeks after that, we removed all the remaining lower teeth — not an easy task. After six weeks of healing, Mr. Stevens was already showing better health, even on soft foods. His physician came to believe the infections from his teeth mimicked the heart problems. He was removed from his heart medicine and began to gain weight. His family helped to pay for a good set of dentures for him after three months of healing.

Mr. Stevens' last visit to us revealed a totally new man. He was tanned. He was back to a healthy weight and was once again eating foods he had given up long ago. He was able to return to work and was no longer on disability. He told us that his physician believed he would have died within a few weeks if not for our help. We were fortunate to be there for him.

Glenda Freeman

Glenda Freeman was referred to us by a friend who felt sorry for her, as she never smiled due to very unevenly spaced and oddly shaped teeth. Glenda had been missing upper and lower teeth for over ten years and was not able to eat properly as a result. A divorced, extremely self-conscious and unhappy individual, she considered herself ugly and thus worked the night shift at a nursing home so she would not have to be around a lot of people.

Glenda was seen by our dentists for a consultation, and a treatment plan was set up. She had several appointments for restorations and preparation for upper and lower partial dentures. Thanks to the Cullasaja Women’s Club, we were able to pay for the partial dentures for her. Once that was complete, Dr. Livernois set about repairing the anterior teeth to give them an even and feminine look.

As we progressed with Glenda’s dental care, she began to dress a little differently. She applied some makeup and even wore her hair down more often. Truly amazing things happened as she was given a most beautiful smile by Dr. Livernois. She became more confident in her manner, looked directly at people during conversation and smiled often. She became a different person. Glenda no longer thought of herself as ugly, but realized that she was indeed a very beautiful person. We had not seen her for a few weeks, and when she came in for her appointment, we honestly did not recognize her. She glowed with her newfound confidence and did not hesitate to smile every minute. She is taking care of her new smile and walking like a woman with a purpose in her life.

Lindsey Bumgarner

Lindsey Bumgarner was initially treated in our office on an emergency basis. On her follow-up appointment, we did a complete exam and discovered much could be done to restore her mouth. Multiple teeth had to be removed, but others were saved with restorations.

Lindsey is a single mother, so there is not a lot of money to be spent on herself. Lindsey was a heavy smoker, and — as with most of our patients — did not eat properly or take care of herself due to her continuous dental pain. She lived, as she said, "a dull life of just trying not to get too far behind." Going to a dentist was out of the question, so she lived with the pain.

Lindsey worked with us by learning new ways to keep her teeth clean and healthy. Flossing became second nature to her. She cut down on smoking when she saw how much whiter her teeth could be. She began to pay attention to her diet and to herself. As her mouth was restored, Lindsey began to restore her body as well. When we reached the point where she could get her upper and lower partial dentures (courtesy of the Cullasaja Women's Club), Lindsey was smoking only a few cigarettes a day and felt re-energized in her life. She is doing very well.

Susan Shandeman

Susan Shandeman is a young woman who was going to school and working evenings to support her family. She suffered from severe dental decay and pain. When she found out about the Clinic, she called us in tears and asked if we could extract two teeth for her that kept her awake at night and caused her to miss work and school.

We saw her on an emergency basis and advised her to have several other teeth removed as well. It was determined that 14 teeth needed very deep fillings in order to possibly be saved. Since she was on probation at work due to taking so many sick days (from her dental issues), we scheduled her for multiple three-hour appointments on the Fridays that Dr. Smith worked at the Clinic. The process was long and painful for Susan. Her teeth were hypersensitive from the deep decay and we were not sure we could save any of them.

Susan is a sweet young lady who is working hard to make a better life for her family. She could not find a dentist who could help her or who would accept payments, so she suffered. And suffer she did. We saw her over an eight-month period and repaired as much as we could. We were able to assist her with upper and lower partials, thanks to the Cullasaja Women's Club. She recently completed her schooling and was able to apply for a better position at her place of employment. Her smile is dazzling, thanks to a whitener, no more smoking, and the partials. Susan tells us how people comment at work that she "must have changed her hair", "lost weight" or "there is something different about you ... you smile all the time. What are you up to?" She says she loves it. Her disposition is better for her children; she has a happier life. That is all we ask for — to help someone have a better life.

"Our Boys"

Ezequiel Bailon, Raul Bailon, Aldo Damian and Luis Damian are four young Hispanic boys, aged 8 to 14, who had never been to a dentist and did not realize that such people existed. The boys lived with their grandparents and had not known a day without suffering. A neighbor befriended them and saw the swelling, abscesses and pain these boys endured on a daily basis. They could only eat softer foods that did not hurt their teeth. Each night, whiskey was rubbed on their gums to help them sleep.

The neighbor arranged to bring the boys to our office, although the grandmother did not see the real need. Initially, we saw four terrified boys who thought it might be the end of the world for them. We called for Jessie the Therapy Dog, and her mistress brought her in so the boys could meet her. What we did not realize was that children in Mexico are taught that dogs are dangerous and to stay away from them. So we had to acquaint the boys with both Jessie and the dentist.

We proceeded slowly on all fronts. Eventually the boys began to trust the Clinic staff and Jessie. Aldo — already a ladies' man at 11 years old — flirted with all of us. We were able to examine the boys and take care of their most serious problems. We saw them again a few weeks later, when the boys had cleanings and a second round with the dentist. By the end of the session, the worst pain was gone for all of the boys and we had fallen in love with them.

The boys are ideal patients. They sit still through entire procedures and do not cause any problems. We are blessed to receive wonderful hugs from them before they leave. The neighbor says she is already seeing a difference in how they act around other people, how they play and how they eat. "Our boys" are such joy for all of us.

Sandy Henson

Sandy Henson is a sweet girl, only 32 years old, with the problems of a much older person. She’s a wife and the mother of three small children, whose husband is mostly unemployed and takes odd jobs to bring in what little money he can. She works full time as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) in a nursing home, while also attending school to gain a more advanced degree.

Between work and school, supporting a family of five and putting their needs before her own, the last thing she could think about was dental care. But she had developed severe dental decay — a mouth full of problems that caused her great pain. She never smiled anymore, partly because of the unsightly appearance of her decayed front teeth, and partly because she was exhausted from the stress and pain. She was finally forced by pain to seek out a dentist, but two different dentists wanted her to pay thousands of dollars up front, which she was unable to do.

One day she had to leave work early due to facial pain, and a co-worker gave her the name of our director. By the time Sandy came to the Clinic, she had developed a massive infection in a rear tooth that was causing her severe eye pain. That day, all Dr. McDonald could do was give her antibiotics and pain medication. At the next visit, she received two fillings and two extractions.

Sandy will lose several more teeth and require a great deal more dental work before we are done. But she has enough sound teeth remaining to warrant partial dentures in the front, which will provide her with the attractive smile she needs to succeed. It is our hope to restore her to full dental health, so that she can smile, work, eat normally, and be able to provide for her family once again.

The commercial value of the dental work we provide to Sandy will be at least $8,000.

"Mr. Peepers"

Richard MacIntyre is an elderly patient who recently arrived at the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic. We affectionately call him “Mr. Peepers”. As he was being processed by the dental assistants, it came out that he lived by himself with his five dogs and had been unemployed for well over a year. He asked if we could examine his ears, since he had recently started experiencing severe ringing and other problems. He was afraid it was something quite serious.

Mr. MacIntyre also mentioned that the dogs were his life, and that both he and they were basically supported by his neighbors through food donations. His oldest dog has cancer and was being treated by a local vet who provided most of her services at no charge. As we talked with him, it was apparent that he was a person in need who would not ask for help.

A call was made to the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society. Executive Director Cassie Welch generously donated 50 pounds of dog food and a large box of biscuits. A quick trip to the Cashiers Food Pantry garnered a box of food. The patient was counseled about the services provided by the Highlands Community Care Clinic so that he could attend to his ear problems. His dental problem was resolved, and he was free of pain for the first time in several weeks.

Mr. MacIntyre's story demonstrates how patients at the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic receive a full spectrum of services. The staff — and the Cashiers community— are more than willing to assist those in need. Our patient left in tears, a very happy man because someone took the time, someone listened, and someone cared.

Barbara Hamburg

Barbara Hamburg is a 49-year-old woman who suffered with severe abscesses for years. The pain was unbearable, resulting in repeated trips to the ER in Brevard, until they would no longer see her. She and her husband both need to work, but Barbara lost her job due to absenteeism.

Barbara was extremely depressed. The constant, agonizing pain was affecting her marriage and family. She was referred to us by a friend, a former patient of the Clinic. We saw Barbara on an emergency basis and assessed that no teeth could be saved. Even having a panorex x-ray taken caused her great discomfort. She was not able to speak to us clearly, as she cried and held her hand over her mouth as much as she could. She was getting very little sleep and felt that she had no positives in her life. She was also very thin from not eating properly due to pain.

Over the course of three appointments, we removed all of Barbara’s teeth. After each visit, she would talk a little more and seemed a little brighter. On her last appointment, we placed immediate dentures. Once she viewed herself in the mirror, she was transformed. The smile was tentative, but it was there.

We saw Barbara two weeks later to check her healing. She had actually filled out a little bit from eating more. Her attitude was more positive, and she would not stop smiling. We tried unsuccessfully to help her get her job back, but she ended up getting a better job with a bit more income. She and her husband are working to patch up their marriage, and Barbara says they are taking their first vacation in eight years. It would have been wonderful to save her natural teeth, but sometimes that is just not possible. Barbara will do well, as her attitude has taken a 180-degree turn. She is beginning a new and better phase in her life.

Tammy and Cathy Jones

Tammy Jones, 22, and Cathy Jones, 19, grew up in a difficult household. They have spent most of their time living with their grandmother, supporting themselves. Their mother has been in and out of the hospital and unable to parent the girls.

Both graduated high school, do not smoke or drink, and work to make something of themselves. Their biggest obstacle has been dental care. They could not afford to have the work done that was suggested to them, due to the cost. They heard about the Clinic from a friend at work. The girls called our office, presenting with severe decay. Several teeth could no longer be saved and had to be removed. Our dentists are working hard to save the remaining teeth. Additional teeth will probably be lost.

Neither girl was raised with proper dental care. Both girls have stepped up with their dental hygiene: brushing, flossing and using fluoride. Unfortunately, they still run into car problems and have had to cancel some appointments. Once they were stranded on Highway 107 due to a clutch that went out on the car. They were finally able to find someone to bring them the rest of the way to Cashiers.

Both girls are working hard to save their teeth. As with a lot of teenagers we see, they were not encouraged to brush as children but were brought up to believe they would one day end up in dentures, so "don’t worry about your teeth". Living in an area without fluoride in the water contributes to poor dentition. Hopefully, with continued hard work, the girls will keep most of their natural teeth and continue to have beautiful smiles.