Chapel Hill, N.C. — Even when the economy is booming, some people simply can't afford dental care, and a recession makes it worse. However, a low-cost clinic run by University of North Carolina dental students is keeping patients smiling bright.
Penny Hatch's first came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry four years ago. She even had a root canal there.
"It is important to maintain, to have a healthy smile, healthy teeth because if things go wrong, it might progress to something else that would be a little harder to take care of,” Hatch said.
Thomas Killeen, 73, drives an hour and a half from Pinehurst to visit the school.
"They give you a tremendous amount of care and they're very, very good to you,” Killeen said.
Since Killeen doesn't have dental insurance, he says his two partial dental plates could have cost him as much as $4,000 at a dentist's office. At the UNC School of Dentistry, he paid $900.
The costs are lower because patients at the school are treated by dental students. The patients get help with their teeth while providing future dentists with hands-on practice.
"Of course, there's also plenty of supervision, which puts people at ease. But I think certainly, there are a lot of people who come here because, let's face it, they want to save money and they do save money by coming here,” said Dr. Douglas Solow, with the UNC School of Dentistry.
"I think it's great that we do provide the service and at a lower cost. And it does give us practice and time to learn and work with patients and give them treatments they really need," student Jennifer Stewart said.
There is a trade-off, however. Students work a little slower than licensed dentists do, so patients should set aside three hours for their appointments.
"You know, the professor's going around looking at you and sometimes giving you a hard time and testing you a little bit, but when the patient feels that you've done the best job that you can do and they're so appreciative of what you were able to (do) for them, it definitely makes you feel really good inside," Stewart said.
The student clinics are very busy, so not everyone may be able to get an appointment. However, the school has plenty of openings for children, people who need complete dentures and people in critical need of a cleaning.
For everyone else, there is an online application and then a drawing. They have a lot more people who want care than they have students who can treat them.
To scheduled an appointment, go to the UNC School of Dentistry's Web site or call 919-966-6474.
If you need full dentures to replace all of your upper or lower teeth or are seeking an application for a child under 12 years old, you can skip the drawing and call for an application.
If you want orthodontic treatment, you can also skip the drawing and call 919-966-4428 for a screening appointment, or visit the Graduate Orthodontic Clinic for more information about becoming a patient.
In addition to the UNC Dentistry School, there are also free clinics occasionally throughout the state. They are a joint effort between the North Carolina Dental Society and the North Carolina Missions of Mercy. The next clinic is in Burlington on March 6 and 7.