Leaders of the effort to develop a collaborative regional dental clinic and training site in Kingsport, Tennessee, gathered today to celebrate a $250,000 donation from Delta Dental of Tennessee’s Smile180 Foundation. The milestone gift will be used to purchase equipment for the clinic, a joint initiative of the City of Kingsport, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Ballad Health, East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and others that will expand access to oral health care services in the region and provide training opportunities for students when it opens next year.
Support for the clinic, a public-private partnership, also comes from the Healthy Smiles Initiative, the State of Tennessee’s comprehensive five-year, $94 million pilot program to expand access to dental care across the state in part by increasing dental school class sizes and creating new training opportunities in strategic locations like Kingsport.
“My great colleague and friend Phil Wenk and Delta Dental of Tennessee are essential longtime supporters of the UTHSC College of Dentistry and played a tremendous role, along with then-Commissioner Lisa Piercey, in developing the plan to address the shortage of dentists in our state,” said Peter Buckley, MD, chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “We are grateful for their ongoing leadership and generosity. The health of countless Tennesseans will be better for it.”
Plans for the clinic, which will be known as the Kingsport Dental Clinic of the Appalachian Highlands, were formalized last fall when the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Alderman voted to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Ballad, ETSU, and UTHSC.
Renovation work to build out the clinic’s space, a former medical office located at 117 West Sevier Ave. in Kingsport, is expected to begin by June in time for a mid-2024 opening. The clinic will be staffed in partnership with Ballad Health and include residents completing a one-year General Dentistry program, as well as students from UTHSC’s College of Dentistry and ETSU’s dental hygiene program completing clinical rotations. Once built, the clinic will feature 12 dental chairs and see patients who may not be able to afford dental care somewhere else.
“I’ve said it before, and you’ll probably hear me say it again: this clinic is one of the most important community endeavors happening in Kingsport,” said Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull. “Too many of our friends and neighbors need easier access to oral health care, but we have a critical shortage of dentists in our region. It’s not just a health issue, either – the shortage of dentists deters businesses from wanting to locate here and limits many residents in need of care from working to their full abilities. I am thankful that Delta Dental has helped us take a big step toward opening those doors next year by funding the equipment.”
“This clinic is long overdue, and we are excited to see it come together with the support of so many collaborative regional partners, including UTHSC and ETSU working together in a new and unprecedented way,” added Phil Wenk, DDS, CEO of Delta Dental of Tennessee. “Increasing the number of dentists practicing in Tennessee, and ultimately improving access to quality oral health care services for all Tennesseans, is a long-term challenge, but we are taking an important first step in Kingsport by bringing this clinic to life. We can’t wait for it to open next year.”