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Dentistry program something to smile about

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — A big goal of the Regional Community Support Center is to maintain the smile on peoples' faces.

The support center's base of operations at the Southwestern Virginia Training Center provides assistance to people from 17 counties with intellectual disabilities.

The dental program has left a big impression on many, as clients travel from as far as Lee County for checkups, cleanings, extractions — basic dental services, said dental director Roger Kiser.

The program began providing the services to the 215 residents at the training center, and the support center has taken on another 350 patients from the region, he said. They continue taking patients, including those from the Twin County area.

"I was surprised at the need," he said. "We are popular because we don't charge anything."

Kiser, one of three dentists working part-time for the program, put in 28 years in private practice, served as a professor of dental hygiene at Wytheville Community College for 11 years and provided dental services at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg for eight years.

He was trying to retire when the dental program at the training center geared up four years ago.

"What do dentists do when they retire? They do dentistry," he joked.

Maintaining your teeth is essential to overall good health, but access to dentists is somewhat limited in rural areas of Virginia, said community services director Karen Poe. When surveying Community Service Boards and other stakeholders in the region, there was a lot of interest in getting greater access to dental care.

Potential clients need to contact their community service boards to apply for the program.

"There's just an overwhelming need," Poe said.

"We try to keep them out of pain, keep them out of infection, keep their function," Kiser said.

Teaching patients to brush properly, and seeing them for follow-up visits are also important parts of the program.

Studies have shown that the longer people can keep and maintain their teeth the better their health will be. Periodontal disease is now understood as a precursor to heart disease.

"It fills a need and that's why I'm still here," Kiser said.

The program does not offer oral surgery or orthodontics, but can refer patients, if needed.

Dentistry services are just one way that the resource center helps people throughout Southwest Virginia, Poe said. She believes there are many more residents of the Twin Counties who could qualify for the service, but don't know about it.

It's had a significant impact, she noted. The dental program alone had 745 appointments for the year from July 2008 to June 2009.

Sometimes the root of a behavioral problem for patients who couldn't express their difficulties has been cleared up by solving their dental issues, Poe said.

The goal of the resource center as she sees it is to break down barriers for anybody with an intellectual disability.

For example, if a couple with a child with intellectual disabilities notices that child has started to act aggressively or have trouble at school, they can consult with the resource center at the training center for help.

The resource center will assist with anything people need, such as occupational therapy, psychological or psychiatric counseling, acquiring wheelchairs, nutritional help and menu planning for group homes, training for care givers and more, Poe said.

Training center Director Dale Woods gives credit to Poe for growing the community programs to assist others.

"I see it as a very integral and important component of what we do."