A Barbourville, Kentucky dentist has been nominated as one of CNN’s Heroes for 2016. In 2005, Dr. Edwin Smith remodeled an 18-wheel truck and turned it into a mobile dental clinic to give free dental care to poverty stricken children who could otherwise not afford it. Smith used $150,000 of his own money to get the project going back in 2005 and has since treated more than 43,000 kids.
As a young dentist Smith was faced with treating many young children with tooth decay. “I saw a lot of patients who hadn’t seen a dentist before,” he said. Some patients had used superglue to glue their teeth back in, others had used pliers to try to pull their own teeth out. Many of the patients had chronic infections because of their poor dental health. “I would see a lot of kids who had a mouth full of rotting teeth. They were in pain, and they’d be hurting at school,” Smith said.
Smith knew he had to do something to help these young patients, especially since Appalachia ranks high in the nation for dental problems. In fact, a 2002 study showed that 42 percent of Kentucky residents had lost all their teeth by age 65, the highest proportion in the United States.
The mobile clinic first began seeing patients by visiting a couple of area schools. Soon Smith had schools all over the state requesting his services. Children are provided dental exams, dental cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants and x-rays if needed – all at no cost. If a child needs more extensive services like a root canal or extraction, Dr. Smith’s team provides a treatment plan to get them the follow-up care they need.
Dr. Smith said that he believes the clinic is making an impact because tooth decay incidents in the schools he visits have continued to decline each year.