IRH brings dental services to McCreary County

Mackenzie Mathews

This summer, WKU’s Institute for Rural Health will venture to McCreary County and provide dental services to those the service does not regularly reach.

The IRH received $5,000 from the Christian Appalachian Project to go toward dental procedures such as cleanings and exams. Children will be the primary focus, though past targets for McCreary County projects have been adults.

“This is really expanding what we’ve been doing in that county by including a different location, facility and nonprofit that we’ll be working with,” Bonny Petty, IRH supervisor and a dental hygienist, said.

WKU has been servicing the county for several years, but this is the first it will be working with CAP. The university also works with the McCreary County Christian Center providing care for adults at a different location.

CAP is a nonprofit organization established to serve the Appalachian area through physical, spiritual and emotional support, but it cannot offer clinical services, IRH director Matt Hunt said.

“We’re very excited to provide the services for children, and hopefully we can change the behavior of the new generation as it pertains to dental health,” Hunt said. “They’re very enthusiastic at CAP to help us on the project.”

The need for dental care in the area derives from a lack of professional services. For the 20,180 people living in McCreary County, there is only one dentist. It was labeled a Health Professional Shortage Area for medical and dental practices by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“It’s a very low socioeconomic community, so there’s not a lot of industry jobs,” Petty said. “In reality, it would be hard to maintain a dental practice if you didn’t have patients that could afford to come.”

The IRH will go to its patients in a mobile unit. The large truck is equipped with two rooms and dental chairs, enabling the volunteers to drive to any location and provide dental screenings and services. It can also be used as an education center for the locals to learn dental maintenance and care.

Several students generally work alongside the IRH in examination and informative screenings; however, no students will be joining this trip. Eiman Al-Eissa, a dental graduate assistant, assisted with planning the project’s implementation and worked on the mobile unit during past excursions.

“I feel the participation rate is a great indicator of the help the program is providing,” she said. “We had 100 percent participation to the appointments. The appreciation and the heartfelt emotions on my patients’ faces tell me I’m making a difference.”

The IRH offers services beyond dental in any underserved region within WKU’s service area, which includes 27 counties. Immunizations and health screenings for other areas, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, are also provided. The IRH projects to supply the community with about 8,000 clinical procedures.

“It’s at the heart of what we do every day,” Hunt said. “When you look at the dental and health services we offer, I think we are a huge service arm for the university.”