New Rock Hill program helps needy get dental care

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 2, 2013 

Dorothy Mitchell did something recently she hadn’t done in nearly 10 years. She saw a dentist.

The 59-year-old Rock Hill woman was among 30 people who spent a recent morning in a dentist’s chair – something most of them wouldn’t have been able to afford if not for a new program through the United Way of York County.

Mitchell was not only thankful for the free dental care, she also was glad her dentist, Dr. John E. Reese of Rock Hill, was able to put her mind at ease.

“I’ve always been deathly afraid of going to the dentist,” she said while waiting for her turn in the chair inside Bethel United Methodist Church.

Mitchell had two teeth pulled – something she might have avoided, she said, if she’d been to the dentist more often. Reese also repaired one of her front teeth, which had been damaged in a car accident.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I was so self-conscious about this front tooth.”

A local bank, which has opted to remain anonymous, donated $15,000 to the United Way to help pay for the program after some of its employees heard stories about homeless people pulling each others’ teeth once dental problems and infections became too much to bear.

“That was sort of the catalyst for this,” said Lora Holladay, the United Way’s community investment director. “It’s a wish come true for some folks.”

Working with agencies that help the homeless and needy – Pilgrims’ Inn, The Haven and The Salvation Army – the United Way found another partner with experience and just the right equipment to help out.

Dental Access Carolina LLC – which Reese founded to provide dental care to economically disadvantaged children who are receiving little or no care by traditional means – offered to provide cleanings, preventative and restorative dental work and, in many cases, pull teeth.

The group brought three mobile dental vans to Bethel United Methodist Church to see 30 patients on a recent Monday.

Offering the mobile dental office to adults without health insurance, Reese said, is crucial.

“Even in the United States, dental care is the number one healthcare need,” he said. “But it’s one that’s also the hardest to deliver.”

Dental Access Carolina maintains three mobile dental units in Rock Hill and one in Charleston. Reese and other dentists have partnered with school districts to make sure local children have access to dental care.

“We basically bring an operating room or fully equipped dental office to the site,” he said.

Reese founded the mobile dental group in 2001 while he still had a “brick-and-mortar” practice. The instant success of Dental Access Carolina led to his selling his traditional practice within months and expanding the mobile service outside York County.

In addition to helping adults, Dental Access Carolina accepts Medicaid as payment to help school children who “are least likely to get the care by traditional means,” Reese said.

Aided by the United Way and the money donated from the local bank, Reese said the recent dental van operation targeting adults in need ensured people “with no other option” had help taking care of their teeth.

Even with the anticipation of having two teeth pulled, Mitchell smiled while she waited inside the gym at Bethel United Methodist Church.

“I’m just so thankful,” she said.

Pointing at Reese as he walked into the gym in his scrubs, Mitchell said, “I wouldn’t have done this if not for these vans and not for that man. He’s a great dentist.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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