Providing critical dental treatment to the needy in Jackson Macon Swain & Transylvania Counties of Western North Carolina

The Need

The Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic serves a four-county area of the Blue Ridge Mountains—an economically challenged region of the southern United States. A mountainous and rural area, it is sparsely populated and offers limited commercial employment opportunities. A large percentage of the population is underemployed and many live without adequate health care insurance.

Serving low income and uninsured residents of Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania counties with income levels at or below 200% of the poverty level, the Clinic provides comprehensive emergency, restorative and preventive dental services free of charge to patients. We estimate that over 15,000 people in our serviceable counties meet the financial qualifications of the Clinic making them eligible for our services

It is well-known that limited financial resources are a barrier to dental care. Delta Dental estimates that lifetime costs for the treatment of tooth decay can range from $1,788 to $4,187. Medicare does not provide any dental services, and while Medicaid provides limited dental assistance, large portions of the needy population, particularly the working poor and elderly, do not qualify for that program. As a result of this barrier, many patients have gone without dental care for years. This leads to critical issues of infection and life-changing situations where basic nutrition, employment, and family life take a back seat to constant, and often debilitating pain and embarrassment.

The People We Serve

In 2010, 882,000 Americans made trips to an emergency department (ED) for preventable dental conditions. In 2012, Duke University and NCBI concluded that dental ED visits are more common among the uninsured, seldom result in definitive care or hospital admission, and often result in prescription of an opioid or antibiotic. At 81% of visits, the patient received an opioid prescription on discharge, and at 69% of visits, the patient received an antibiotic prescription on discharge. These findings are cause for concern and warrant a response from our Clinic. Our focus on prevention and restoration aims to significantly reduce dental ED visits — as well as opiate prescriptions for dental pain — in Western North Carolina.

Qualifying for Treatment

To qualify, our patients can earn no more than 200% of the federal poverty level annually. In 2008, half earned less than 90% of the federal poverty level. None have dental health coverage or qualify for Medicaid dental services. Even basic preventative care is out of reach for most of our patients, and they certainly cannot afford the services necessary to deal with extensive and complex problems resulting from years of dental neglect. Without our assistance, critically needed treatment would not be available to these people, and hundreds of our patients would have no chance for a normal life. Read more about our patient eligibility guidelines. Read more about our patient eligibility guidelines.