Tennessee Health Commissioner Tours Dental Clinic

Dentistry Today


Tennessee Department of Health commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, recently toured the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Union City Dental Clinic, one of three operated by the UTHSC College of Dentistry.

These clinics provide necessary dental services to underinsured and uninsured across the state from Union City in West Tennessee to Chattanooga and Bristol in the eastern part of the state. They are supervised by faculty and staffed by fourth-year dental students as well as dental hygiene students on rotations to provide dental services and gain clinical experiences.

James C. Ragain, DDS, MS, PhD, dean of the College of Dentistry, said the Union City clinic has been essential in providing services during the pandemic and is a model for similar clinics the college envisions adding across the state to better serve rural areas in particular.

“We would like to set them up, similar to the Union City clinic, where we have a faculty member in place and the faculty member treats patients. Then we rotate D4 (dental students) and D2 dental hygiene students up there for clinical experience,” said Ragain.

The college has considered increasing its statewide footprint by also adding a large clinical training space in Knoxville that would allow for expansion of its incoming class from 98 to 130, Ragain said.

The pandemic interrupted any consideration of expansion, the school said, though the commissioner’s visit was an opportunity to show what a satellite clinic can accomplish in an area of need.

Ragain called the commissioner’s visit “very informal” and an opportunity to “take a look at it and see what” the school was doing. He also called the clinic “a really, really strong program” that has provided dental services during the pandemic and offered necessary clinical opportunities to D4 students so they could graduate on time this spring and summer.

“This is a unique situation where everybody wins,” said Ed Reese, DDS, clinic director and assistant professor in the UTHSC Department of General Dentistry. “Patients get their needs taken care of, and the students get exposure in a clinical setting.”

The Bristol clinic, located in the Healing Hands Health Center, has operated during the pandemic. The Chattanooga clinic in the Dodson Avenue Neighborhood Health Center has been closed due to the pandemic but is expected to reopen soon.

“We just don’t have enough dentists in Tennessee. We’re thinking these clinics might be a way of getting the dental force out in the community,” said Ragain, adding that dental students may choose to settle in communities where they have trained and provided services.

The clinical growth strategy for the College of Dentistry that began in 2015 and 2016 with the three clinics extends beyond general dentistry clinics to include pediatric patients and adult patients with special needs, as well as possible future clinic space in Arkansas.

A pediatric dental clinic opened in Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in December. A special needs clinic is included in plans for new College of Dentistry space on the Memphis campus as well.

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