WE Serve

Restoring Smiles // Interfaith Dental Clinic

WEUMC member, Dr. Rhonda Switzer-Nadasdi, a dentist herself and the chief executive of the Interfaith Dental Clinic, was hired shortly after the clinic opened. She points out that neither Medicaid nor Medicare provides dental care for people over 21. For those struggling with meeting needs for food, housing, and other basics, going to the dentist feels like a luxury they simply can’t afford. 

Listen to this short interview with Dr. Switzer-Nadasdi to find out more about Interfaith Dental Clinic! 
 

Audio

Interfaith Dental Clinic

Dr. Tom Underwood, a member of West End United Methodist Church, had a calling to use his professional skills to help the poor. He had traveled to many impoverished countries on mission trips to serve, but when he came home from one, he also saw the effects of poverty right around him. He came up with a vision of what could be done and rallied his friends to help. He enlisted WEUMC member and dentist, the late Dr. Charlie Ingram, and some colleagues from other faith communities. 

When they presented their idea to the church, they found a supportive community. For four years the group met and planned, buoyed by the energy and leadership of Bishop Roy Clark and clergy Judi Hoffman and Bob Coleman. Finally, in October of 1994 the Interfaith Dental Clinic opened in a small but fully equipped room in the lower level of the church next to the kitchen there.

What began 25 years ago with two dental chairs and some volunteers working part-time in West End Church’s basement has grown to two fully equipped offices, for a total of 26 treatment rooms—18 in Nashville, another eight 45 minutes away in Murfreesboro—and hundreds more volunteers plus full-time staff, serving annually 2,800 people who have no other options. 

WEUMC member, Dr. Rhonda Switzer-Nadasdi, a dentist herself and the chief executive of the Interfaith Dental Clinic, was hired shortly after the clinic opened. She points out that neither Medicaid nor Medicare provides dental care for people over 21. For those struggling with meeting needs for food, housing, and other basics, going to the dentist feels like a luxury they simply can’t afford. 

Too often people don’t realize the essential nature of good oral care, which affects overall health, social contact, and economic opportunity. Research has confirmed a strong link between poor oral health and stroke, diabetes, heart issues, and cancer. 

Research has also shown how vital having good friends and other social contacts are to wellbeing, but persons with bad teeth don’t feel comfortable speaking or eating in front of others. They withdraw and become isolated and locked in depression. In a job interview, most potential employers within seconds screen out persons whose teeth are rotted, missing, or stained. Without a healthy smile, people suffer in surprising ways.

Dr. Switzer-Nadasdi matches volunteers with patients. Nearly 200 volunteers representing different specialties and dental professionals such as hygienists and dental assistants give their time and expertise regularly, some once a week, some once a month, others as they can. Dental students and younger students exploring dentistry also volunteer, and Oral Surgery and General Practice dental residents do rotations. Retired dentists often serve as mentors as well as providers. 

Additional volunteers help welcome and comfort patients and provide assembly and distribution of dental hygiene take home kits. Still other volunteers bring their skills for accounting, data crunching, IT, legal, friend-raising, advocating for better policy, grant writing, and fundraising. Patients pay on a sliding scale, based on income and family size, but the rest of the cost is covered by donations mainly from individuals and local companies.

Committed to providing long-term, comprehensive oral health care, done with dignity for the recipients, Interfaith Dental Clinic does not simply deal with emergencies such as extractions and alleviating acute pain, rather they seek to change lives. Restoring smiles is a great start!