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MCHD Smile Express expands dental outreach to recovery center patients

On a late August morning, Jamie Fenton had the opportunity to cross something off his list that he had not done in a long time — sit in a dental chair and have his teeth assessed and cleaned.

Tiffany Summerlin, a dental hygienist with MCHD Dentistry at Monongalia County Health Department as well as Smile Express’ coordinator, also chatted with Fenton and gave him advice for future dental visits to get his smile back in shape.

“This is amazing,” said Denton, who lives in the Salem area but was spending time as a guest at the WVU Center for Hope and Healing. “It’s great under our circumstances to have such a positive teeth cleaning.”

Fenton had a shoulder injury that didn’t heal properly. The pain prompted him to self-medicate, he said, as he struggled to help raise his children and provide for his family as a general contractor.

His stay at the WVU Center for Hope and Healing has gotten him moving in a positive direction, and services such as the ones provided aboard Smile Express also motivate him.

“That’s one of the things you lose when you are struggling with addiction,” he said. Smile Express, a mobile dental office with a crew made up of Summerlin, Dr. Jordan Snyder and dental assistants Velvet Urgo and Stacy Croston, began visiting the WVU Center for Hope and Healing as well as Wise Path Recovery Center in Westover last spring.

Summerlin drives the 38-foot RV and parks in the lots at the centers. Patients have already been alerted to the visit and those who are interested sign up for appointments.

Then all they have to do is step outside and board “Smiley,” which Monongalia County Health Department launched in 2018 to conduct dental outreach, including visiting schools in six West Virginia counties.

“From the very beginning, it was a very rewarding partnership, and the need is great,” Summerlin said. “What we are able to do for their guests has the opportunity to make a huge impact on their sobriety.”

Brad Pershing, the program director at Wise Path Recovery Center, agrees.

“The guests love it,” he said. “They come here very vulnerable with a laundry list of issues. These are people at some of the worst times in their lives. To be able to provide a service on-site hat ’s not typically provided at a residential facility is something different for them.”

Patients agree.

“It’s hard for me to get to my dentist,” said Cassie Catlett of Kingwood. With this, they came to me.

Sprucing up a smile can go a long way toward restoring confidence.

“An important part of your appearance is your smile,” Catlett added. “It’s a large part of recognizing that I want to look better, feel better and be a better person. Talking to Tiffany made me feel like I had other options. It’s not a dead-end road.”

Wise Path’s staff has a goal of providing different types of care to help people get back into good habits.

“It’s a confidence booster,” Pershing said.

“We try to bring in haircuts, anything that makes them feel better. A lot of people don’t smile because of their teeth, or they smile without opening their mouths. A lot of them are self-conscious about it.

“Starting the process, they can get X-rays and a cleaning and see what the next steps would be.”

The Smile Express providers’ compassion impresses Pershing.

“The way they interact in a non-judgmental, caring way is fantastic, and you can feel that,” he said.

Summerlin said the experience has been more heartwarming than she anticipated. She recalls a patient who was getting ready to return to his family out of state.

“He was just overjoyed with the idea that his smile and his confidence was given a big boost, and that just made me feel like we ’re making a real difference that goes beyond fixing teeth.”

Snyder and Croston joined Summerlin and Urgo for a visit at Wise Path, where they were able to treat Brian Kyle of Terra Alta.

“I haven’t been to a dentist since I was a kid,” he said before his appointment.

He needed a cleaning and to have a cavity filled, he said. Once Summerlin cleaned his teeth, he moved to the other dental chair so Snyder could perform an exam and take care of the cavity.

“It makes me feel positive,” he said.

Snyder has a personal connection to this kind of outreach. Her fiancé is a psychiatric resident whose senior doctoral project focuses on substance misuse, so they reached out to the WVU Center for Hope and Healing.

“It is our hope that we will be able to continue this partnership as it is providing wonderful services to all the residents at the Center for Hope and Healing and Wise Path,” she said.

The treatment Snyder and the staff are able to provide includes fillings, extractions, exams, cleanings and X-rays.

And the team recommends a dental home for patients throughout the state for follow-up care, she added.

“Every single patient that comes on board is very appreciative of the work we are able to provide,” Snyder said. “When they leave, we hope they are able to move forward with more information on how to keep their oral health a priority so they have the confidence to get back out in society and do their best.”

Count Fenton among the pleased patients.

“I’m getting my clarity back and working on motivating myself and leaving with a polished smile on top of that is great.”