Mobile dentist brings free dental care to children in Appalachia


By: Zoe Melnyk

It’s no secret that the healthcare system in America isn’t quite right.

Before the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, over 15% of Americans were completely uninsured. Now, that number has dropped just below 10%.

While that is a remarkable improvement, for one out of every 10 Americans, it is still not enough.

And if you think, that’s not really a big deal, most Americans are covered and that’s good enough, just think about the fact that over 30 countries around the world offer free healthcare to 100% of their citizens.


Countries that offer universal healthcare

Countries that offer universal healthcare


Dental care is even worse. No one should be left to suffer due to poor circumstances, and that’s exactly what drove Dr. Edwin Smith to bring free dental care to people across Kentucky and the rest of Appalachia.

Americans living in the Appalachian region are struggling with dental care, and it isn’t necessarily their fault. In one region of West Virginia, there’s approximately three dentists in a region with 24,000 people.

That’s 8,000 people per dentist. Even if each dentist worked 365 days of the year, they would have to get through 21 patients a day in order to treat everyone.

After growing up in this region, Smith knew he needed to help.

One of the most important issues Smith tackled was accessibility, “Many people can’t afford to get treatment done, and many of these families don’t have the transportation that they need to access it,” he said in an interview with CNN.

Smith’s biggest concern was with children, “The number one issue is education. When I first started practicing, I would see babies being fed bottles filled with sugary drinks,” he said.


Smith created a non profit organization called Kids First Dental Service and over the past decade, he has helped over 43,000 children with the mobile clinic. 

This is not just an issue in Appalachia. Americans all over the country are not getting the dental care they desperately need.

Five years ago, the federal government identified 4,600 areas of the country that do not have enough coverage for dental care, that’s an average of 92 areas per state

The American Dental Association conducted a survey that found that about one out of every five Americans haven’t been to the dentist in years. 

Out of those adults, just over 40% claimed they don’t visit the dentist because they can’t afford it and 32% of those surveyed believed they simply didn’t need the care. This is not only a failure in the healthcare system, but also the education system.

Not having any pain does not necessarily mean that there are no cavities or issues. Cavities can begin on a tooth’s enamel and it could take years before the person feels any pain. Also, infections can creep into the bloodstream and spread throughout the entire body.

Not only do Americans need easier access to healthcare, but they need a better understanding on why dental hygiene is so important.

Smith is just one, of hopefully many, examples of how to give Americans the healthcare they deserve.