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Newly expanded Dental Clinic opens this month, increases services for uninsured

The newest dental chairs are in and the surrounding equipment and walls are receiving their final touches as the dental half of St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical & Dental Clinic gets set to fully open at the end of August. 

The expanded, bright interior has all new flooring, fresh paint—and more importantly—additional patient care spaces, increasing from 8 to 16 chairs on the dental side of the clinic, which is housed in the building’s Delta Dental of Arizona Oral Health Center. The expansion has also made possible a dry laboratory and surgical room, an X-ray unit, and modernized sterilization and dispensary rooms.

Some of the new chairs are already being put to use on a limited basis. Last year alone, the dental clinic offered 10,000 patient visits. The hope is that double capacity will result in double the number of people helped by the clinic.

“It’s exciting,” said Dr. Ken Snyder, SVdP’s executive dental director. “We’re going to be able to serve so many more patients, and we’ll be able to have many more volunteers participate and students, so it’s a win-win-win situation for everyone.”

Dr. Snyder explained that the patients win by getting quality dental treatment that would otherwise be unavailable to them. The students win by gaining invaluable experience in treating medically and dentally compromised patients. And the community wins as a the clinic fosters a new generation of future volunteer health professionals.

The charity clinic focuses on treating uninsured and low-income patients, serving as a temporary dental home for a population of people that would otherwise forgo even the most discounted dental care because of financial strain. Patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis and prioritized based on highest need and the availability of chair space as the clinic completes current patients' care.  

“There are so many people out there that are in need, and dentistry—if you were to go to a private dental office and if you don’t have insurance, the expense incurred may create a barrier to care,” said Dr. Scott Myers, SVdP’s new clinical dental director. “Coming here, you have the ability to receive necessary care without expense. From a public health perspective, we’re really doing a big service for the community.”

The dental clinic offers comprehensive and emergency care as well as specialty dentistry. In addition to helping patients, over the years, the dental clinic has also evolved into an educational opportunity. Senior dental students come from the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa as well as Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine in Glendale to serve on multi-week rotations at the clinic. Orthodontic and Oral Surgery residents also treat the underserved population in their specialties at the clinic. In fact, the SVdP dental clinic's Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency Program is one of the most sought after in the country.

The Virginia G. Piper Medical & Dental Clinic expansion makes up the second phase of a $16 million capital project—the first such project for SVdP in 25 years. The first phase erected the Diane & Bruce Halle Center in 2018, which houses SVdP’s transitional housing shelter and Resource Center. Those services formerly shared space in the building now devoted entirely to the medical and dental clinic as wells as the Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation Center for Family Wellness. The wellness center and medical clinic fully moved into their expanded space on the lower floor of the clinic builiding in December 2018 while the dental clinic came to fruition on the second floor above.

“We’ve gone through this big expansion and gained the ability to treat a much larger segment of the population,” Dr. Myers said. “We are also inviting in more faculty and staff to meet the demand and expanding the types of treatments we are providing. Our vision is [simple]—we want to increase and provide services for the underserved in the community.”