Marjorie Shepard hated going to the dentist and not only because she often faints at the sight of needles. Without insurance, the 74-year-old Lawrence woman often felt uncomfortable asking for dental care.
"I felt I wasn't as good as the next person because I couldn't pay for it," she said.
Last week, Shepard became one of a handful of patients to seek treatment at the Douglas County Dental Clinic, 944 Ky., which offers reduced-price dental care. The clinic, which has been open sporadically during December, will begin regular hours Jan. 8.
The opening marks the end of a process that began in 1998 with the formation of the Douglas County Dental Coalition, comprised of dentists, hygienists and other health care professionals. Douglas County has been identified by the National Health Service Corps as a high-need area for low-cost dental care.
"Everybody's known the need's been out there for a long time," said Allison Levans, a Lawrence nurse who is serving as the clinic's manager.
In June, the coalition purchased equipment from retiring dentist Larry Mayer and began renting his former office at 944 Ky.
For now, the clinic will be open Tuesdays and some Fridays. Overland Park dentist Stephen Haake is volunteering his time on Tuesdays, and several Lawrence dentists including John Hay, Ed Manda and Paul Herrera will fill in on Fridays.
The clinic has about 10 hygienists who are volunteering their time. Levans said the goal is to hire a full-time hygienist.
The coalition also would like to have a full-time dentist provided by the National Health Service Corps, which places new dentists in high-need areas in exchange for helping pay their college loans.
Health-care experts have said the clinic will help fill a need for poor people, because Medicaid doesn't offer dental coverage for adults, and few dentists accept the coverage for children.
To qualify, patients must live in Douglas County and earn less than twice the level of poverty. A single person can earn up to $17,180 per year, and a family of four can earn up to $35,300.
The clinic charges $15 per visit, and other costs are on a sliding scale. For instance, a cleaning costs from $12 to $30, depending on income.
"Right now we're operating at a huge loss," Levans said. "It's been such a challenge to find a right fee for people. We want it to be affordable, but we need to break even, too."
Levans said the clinic is hoping to attract more grant money to pay for expenses. It already has a three-year, $100,000 grant from the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, a $46,000 grant from the Rice Foundation and a $15,000 grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation.
She expects to know soon about a $75,000 grant from the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) program, which focuses on preventing dental problems in children 6 and under.
Levans said preventative care will be a major focus for patients of all ages.
"That's the only way we can make a difference to teach people to keep their mouth clean," she said.
The clinic doesn't offer root-canal procedures or dentures, but Levans said she expects to include those services in the next year.
Shepard, who had a broken wisdom tooth pulled by volunteer dentist Haake, said she plans to return to the clinic to repair bridgework. She said Haake's demeanor he explained the procedure in simple terms convinced her going to the dentist doesn't have to be so bad.
"I was sweating," she said. "I was ready to do what I usually do pass out. God bless him. We're blessed to have a place like that."