It had been seven years since Amanda Simmons visited a dentist.
The 23-year-old has dental insurance through Medicaid, but the out-of-pocket cost is still still too much for her to afford. She saw a Facebook post about the Rural Parish Clinic’s free dental clinic operating at St. Joachim in Old Mines and made a 45-minute drive from her home in Bismarck in St. Francois County.
An initial exam and cleaning led to a second visit for an extraction of two teeth and several fillings. At her prior dentist, “just for me to get a cleaning and X-rays, they wanted $200, even with insurance,” she said. “This helps a lot.”
The Rural Parish Clinic, a mobile medical clinic providing health care services to uninsured and underinsured people in rural communities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, earlier this year expanded its services to offer dental care. Both clinics are supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
The dental clinic opened in January, seeing clients at Father Dempsey’s Charities; it then expanded services in June to Washington County, based at St. Joachim Parish in Old Mines. The dental clinic operates as a separate department of the Rural Parish Clinic, which was launched in May 2019 and currently provides medical care services at several sites in Washington and Franklin, Jefferson and St. Francois counties.
Services at the dental clinic include cleanings, X-rays and tooth extractions, fillings and dentures. A 40-foot van includes two operatories, a panoramic X-ray machine, a small lab for processing tooth impressions, and a business office space. The clinic received a $50,000 grant from Delta Dental of Missouri, through its Oral Health Grant Program, that was used toward the cost of dental equipment.
According to a 2020 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Missouri adults with higher educational attainment and higher annual income are twice as likely to visit the dentist as individuals from the lowest socioeconomic group. Missouri adults older than 65 years of age from the lowest socioeconomic group also were five times more likely to have lost all of their permanent teeth due to tooth decay or gum disease than individuals from higher socioeconomic groups.
The clinic’s primary mission includes helping to restore patients’ oral health, improving both function and appearance, where needed, said Dr. John Landgraf, a semi-retired dentist and dental director of the clinic.
“It gets back to the teaching of our Catholic faith, that God gave us gifts,” he said of volunteering with the clinic. “For me, personally, I had the gift of being a good dentist who had a very long career. And while I was always giving back a little through my career, when it started to slow down, that’s when I felt the calling to really give this gift to others.”
The clinic has six dentists and five hygienists who volunteer their time, but more volunteers are needed, said Dr. Landgraf, a member of St. Clement of Rome Parish in Des Peres. Other volunteers are needed in support roles to help with administrative/clerical tasks, dental technology and pharmacy.
Diann Bomkamp, a dental hygienist for 52 years, began volunteering at the clinic in June. She described the work as “pro-life,” in that it helps others in need.
“This is something I could do for the community to help people, because this is my skill,” said the member of St. Monica Parish in Creve Coeur. “Oral health care is a really needed entity in Missouri … Dental care is expensive. We have more people with diabetes nowadays, and that really affects oral health. You can’t keep yourself healthy without good oral health.”
Kim Estes, who lives near Cadet, recently visited for a cleaning and filling. She learned about the dental clinic through an appointment she had at the medical clinic. “When I was 16 I had a bad experience” at a previous dentist, she said. “But this has been great.”
>> St. Apollonia — patron of those with dental ailments
St. Apollonia was born in the third century and lived in Alexandria, Egypt. She spent her entire life preaching the word of God and risked persecution for her faith.
In 249 AD, she was captured and brought before a pagan court to be tried. When the judge asked her name, she said, “I am a Christian and I love and serve the true God.” Her persecutors became enraged and tortured her. She stood firm as her teeth were smashed with pincers and then knocked out. She was told if she did not deny Jesus she would be thrown into a fire. Rather than deny her faith, she jumped into the fire. When the pagans saw how heroic she was, many converted to Christianity.
St. Apollonia is considered patron of those with dental disease and dental professionals. Her feast day is Feb. 9.
>> Oral health in Missouri
A 2020 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services noted that the number of Missourians without dental coverage is difficult to ascertain. The Surgeon General’s Report states that for every adult 18 years of age and older without health insurance coverage, there are three without dental coverage. About 12.4% of Missouri adults report that they do not have health coverage.
There also is a shortage of oral health care providers in low-income and rural areas. For example, there are fewer than six licensed dentists operating in Washington County, according to the Missouri health department.
There are approximately 57,000 emergency department (ED) visits due to non-traumatic dental complaints among Missouri residents annually; based on national estimates, these visits cost approximately $21 million per year.
>> Get involved
The Rural Parish Clinic-Dental offers essential dental health care free of charge to uninsured patients in underserved communities.
Both the dental and medical clinic locations follow COVID-19 safety procedures and protocols consistent with the latest guidance from the CDC as well as local and regional health officials. While testing and medical care is not offered for COVID-19, patients are questioned about symptoms and potential exposure upon arrival at the clinics, and are offered guidance and referrals for testing, vaccines or medical care as needed.
The dental clinic is in need of volunteers who have experience in the dental field. Dentists, dental hygenists, and other support roles are needed. For more information on volunteering, contact Jeanine Jung at (314) 225-4034.
Those seeking care may schedule an appointment by calling Jeanine Jung at (314) 225-4034. Walk-in patients are accepted as availability allows.
The Rural Parish Clinic is a separately incorporated ministry, not operated nor controlled by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. More information is available at archstl.org/rpc.