How friendship and a new dental clinic in Chattanooga gave a woman a new smile

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First cavities started to accumulate, then came infections and abscesses.

Elise Lydon knew she suffered from major dental problems. But even with a discount, an oral surgeon said it would cost her $1,800 to fix her teeth, which was far more than she could afford.

As an adult with no dental insurance and no other way to pay for expensive care, Lydon had little hope of getting the treatment she needed. That’s when a good friend from Chattanooga Valley Presbyterian Church started looking for options.

“I started getting more and more cavities because of the medication I was prescribed – this happens to a lot of people – and having so many abscesses she wanted to find out what she could do for me” , said Lydon. “The abscesses were getting closer and closer, so something really had to be done.”

Lydon’s friend spoke to her dentist, who knew about the opening of a new nonprofit clinic for underserved patients in Chattanooga called Revive Dental. The clinic caters to people without dental insurance and is able to keep costs low thanks to grants from local foundations, which helped secure and equip the building at 1212 Dodds Ave., and the dentists who offer their services. .

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How friendship and a new dental clinic in Chattanooga gave a woman a new smile

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“There are just a lot of people who can’t afford regular dental care, and we’re able to help some of those people,” said Revive co-founder Dr. Michael McCracken. “All of our dental and other labs, bills and supplies have to be paid for, so we have to charge a small fee. But an extraction in our office costs about $60, while another dental office might charge $150.”

Costs are even lower for people referred by local nonprofit partners or those recovering from substance use disorders.

“We have a real heart for people who work really hard to make better decisions and what a tough road it is, and so we’re here to help them with their dental care,” he said.

McCracken, a dentist from Chattanooga, left his full-time professorship at the University of Alabama School of Dentistry to found his first nonprofit dental clinic in Bessemer, Alabama, in 2011. Although he still teaches part-time and helps run the original clinic, McCracken said he felt called to return to his hometown and open a clinic in Chattanooga.

Although there is a great need for affordable dental services across America, he said the need is especially high in Alabama and Tennessee, which are two of only three states whose Medicaid programs provide no dental coverage. for adults.

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Dr. Leigh Kuyrkendall, a dentist based in Lookout Mountain and the other co-founder of Revive, volunteers at Revive and said the federally licensed health center on Dodson Avenue has a dental clinic that also provides low cost services, but many other similar dental clinics. in the region are needed.

Some patients have gone decades without seeing a dentist or have never seen one, which prevents them from moving forward, she said.

“They can’t get treatment, so they often end up going through the emergency room,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a tooth that causes their face to swell and antibiotics can help, but often the tooth needs to be extracted, and that’s what we do for $60 at Revive.”

People struggling to overcome substance use disorders are among those most in need of low-cost dental care, as they rarely have a job or dental insurance and often neglect oral hygiene. .

Micah Andrews, CEO of The Foundry Ministries — a long-term residential recovery program in Bessemer, Alabama — said about 75 to 97 percent of people who go through the program need some sort of dentistry, and at least 25 to 35% need major work.

Oral health is probably the lowest priority when someone is struggling with addiction,” Andrews said. “You add that to the mix with some of the drugs – like methamphetamine, in particular – that damage teeth and gums, and it can quickly escalate until someone with a great smile has no teeth at all. “

For people recovering, the condition of their teeth may be what keeps them from starting a new life.

“You’ve overcome one of the biggest hurdles of your life and been sober for a year, but you can only get a menial job because no one wants you to work in their office if you don’t have teeth,” says Andrews. “This is what makes clinics [like Revive] so critical for this population, dental care literally increases their standard of living and the possibility of true long-term recovery.”

Revive is capable of handling most general dentistry cases including fillings, extractions, implants and dentures.

Since opening in 2022, the clinic has treated about 200 patients, but McCracken said the clinic will be able to accommodate more patients as it continues to add new dentists.

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With financial support from the church, Lydon was able to become Revive’s first patient.

“I’m truly blessed. My good friend made sure it was done, and they’re a great group at this clinic,” Lydon said.

After a total of six appointments, Lydon received a new prosthesis on Wednesday. She’ll have to take it easy at first, but she said she’s thrilled to be eating solid foods again and to have found a permanent dental practice.

“It’s very important, dental health, because it can affect the rest of you,” she said. “It’s been a long road, but I see teeth at the end of the tunnel.”

Contact Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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