BY SOPHIE BIRD
The dental clinic at Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) sees about 100 patients each month. During those visits, dentists Steve Pritchard and Park Firebaugh and dental hygienist Jan Firebaugh do what most of us might see as routine dental care: they conduct exams, perform cleanings and extractions, take X-rays, and fit dentures.
But for many VIM clients, the experience is all-new. Nancy Richman, VIM executive director, says it’s not unusual to see a patient leaving the VIM building, 811 W. 2nd St., running their tongue over their teeth, unaccustomed to the feeling of a dental cleaning.
VIM’s mission is to provide free medical and dental care to economically disadvantaged individuals or those without access to health care.
“People come to VIM in pain and they leave not in pain,” Dr. Pritchard says. “If you have all these other pressures in your life—financial, family—and you’re struggling to make it, the last thing you need is to be in debilitating pain.”
When Drs. Pritchard and Firebaugh encounter a patient with needs the dental clinic cannot address, such as wisdom tooth extractions and panoramic X-rays, they reach out to VIM’s network of community dentists, who often perform the procedures for free.
As the only clinic in the area with medical and dental services under one roof, VIM is able to communicate efficiently about patient needs and ensure patients are keeping up on all kinds of care, Richman says.
“Dentists can be the first people to identify diabetes and all sorts of medical issues,” she says. “It’s an extremely effective model for thinking of someone as a full person.”
According to Richman, a healthy smile helps others see VIM’s patients as complete people, too, which can increase self-esteem and create employment opportunities.
“Our dental clinic is important not just for health but for jobs and all of the other areas that have to do with lifting somebody out of poverty,” Richman adds.
Both Drs. Pritchard and Firebaugh are retired from their own private practices and receive a small stipend from VIM. They are on duty Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Dental hygienist Jan Firebaugh is at the clinic Mondays and Fridays.
VIM is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 812-333-4001, but walk-ins are also encouraged. For more information, visit vimmonroecounty.org.