Dentistry program takes root in Louisa

Living in a rural community has many benefits, but there are also some down sides. Certain services are scarce, and the distance to reach doctors, dentists and grocery stores can be considerable.  

Louisa County is not immune to those deficiencies. Residents sometimes suffer from the lack of access to affordable and easily accessible health care.  

The Louisa County Resource Council realized  how detrimental the lack of proper dental care can be for its clients following a study by University of Virginia nursing students a couple of years ago. Not only does poor dental health affect a person’s diet, but it can also cause other health problems that can impact the heart and circulatory system.  

In 2018 the resource council formed a committee to develop a dental assistance program. Dr. John Hodge, a retired Louisa County dentist, and Lloyd Runnett, resource council executive director, visited each of the area’s six dentists to explain the program. All of them agreed to help.  

The pilot program kicked off earlier this year and has been well received by clients and dentists. Now, as the program moves into a more permanent phase, its scope of services is being expanded to assist people with more advanced dental needs.

“We agreed to phase in the program slowly, allowing us to work out any bugs in the system,” Hodge said.  

Clients who have an emergency situation, such as an abscess or another severe dental need, can bring a doctor’s authorization, essentially a prescription, to the resource council office. After they complete an application and pay a $25 co-pay, a staff member contacts one of the dentists to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.  

Help paying for more routine dental work is also available. Clients complete an application, which is reviewed by the advisory committee. Once approved, an appointment is made for the client with one of the available dentists.

As the program moves to the next step, the resource council is seeking more participants.  

From the pilot program it was discovered that one of the roadblocks has been transportation to and from appointments. The advisory committee reached out to JAUNT, the regional bus service, and local taxi companies to help bridge those gaps.   

Clients are encouraged to contact JAUNT first to make arrangements for a ride to a dental appointment. If the time frame for using the bus service doesn’t mesh with the scheduled appointment, a staff member at the resource council will contact a taxi service that has agreed to provide rides at a reasonable rate.  

“We don’t want transportation to be a hindrance to our clients receiving this important service, so we are working to find ways to close that gap,” Runnett said. “Our goal is to not have cancelled appointments because of transportation issues. We want to be considerate of our dentists’ time since they are agreeing to partner with us, often on short notice.”

Financial assistance, determined by the advisory board, is paid directly to the dentists on behalf of the clients.

“When I first started working in Louisa County 30 years ago, I was about the only dentist in the area and saw a tremendous need for services and emergency care,” Hodge said. “Now, we have a core of professionals here who can multiply the assistance we can give to residents.”

Hodge said the program enables participants to get the immediate care they need, but it also allows providers to develop relationships with them. 

One dentist told him that a man came to him in pain and he extracted a problem tooth. The client was so impressed with the resource council’s program that he arranged a payment plan with the dental office for additional work.

“We couldn’t do this without our dentists being willing to partner with us,” Hodge said.  

The six dentists include Mineral Dental Care; Darryl Pearlman; Louisa Comprehensive Dental; John Andre; Piedmont Dental at Lake Anna and Spring Creek Family Dentistry and Orthodontics in Zion Crossroads.  

Twenty-eight resource council clients have received dental assistance so far. The hope is to steadily increase that number as the program goes forward.

For more information, contact the Louisa County Resource Council at (540) 967-1510 or pick up an application at 147 Resource Lane, off Chalk Level Road.