Jim Wesson

Jim Wesson is the executive director of New Braunfels Christian Ministries and is the former president and administrator of CHRISTUS Santa Rosa - New Braunfels.

Over my 40 years in healthcare, I have observed that access to medical and dental care is not easily available to everyone. In fact, Texas leads the nation in uninsured residents. A staggering 5.2 million Texans, 18.4 percent of the state’s population, lack access to medical insurance according to the Texas Medical Association. Right here in New Braunfels, 14 percent lack access to medical care and even more have no access to dental care. While other barriers certainly do exist, the American Dental Association (ADA) indicates cost is the leading factor why Americans do not visit the dentist. Complicating the issue further is many employers are relying heavily on part-time staff and contractors, to whom they do not provide access to insurance.

Bottom line — people are less likely to go to the dentist without insurance, and not visiting the dentist can lead to an array of problems. A lack of routine dental care can lead to plaque buildup, gingivitis, cavities and tooth loss. Untreated dental conditions can lead to even more serious consequences, such as gum disease, life-threatening infections and oral cancer. Beyond the mouth, a growing body of research shows a strong correlation between oral health and overall health. The Mayo Clinic indicates a lack of oral health may contribute to other conditions long-term, like endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy and birth complications, pneumonia, diabetes and more. A white paper from the Health Policy Institute puts it best, “One cannot be healthy without a healthy mouth — yet millions of adults in America — particularly low-income adults — cannot afford the oral health care they need to stay healthy, eat, work, socialize and live pain free.”

I am honored to serve as the executive director of New Braunfels Christian Ministries where we have a team of staff and volunteers at Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) who help fill this gap in care for residents in our community. VIM provides barrier-free access to quality dental and medical care to local low-income uninsured adults. To qualify for free care at VIM, patients document their residency and income, which must be less than 250 percent of the federal poverty limit. Although some patients are unemployed, many work multiple part-time jobs and have a challenging time making ends meet. Unfortunately, most patients’ medical needs are complex because they have gone without care for so long.

Since opening the clinic doors in 2008 we are grateful to have helped patients during 9,000 dental appointments. From routine exams and cleanings to extractions and fillings, staff and volunteers are committed to helping patients in their journey to achieving oral health. But recently, we have experienced challenges in responding to local need. The VIM staff dentist position has gone unfilled for the last eight months and remains vacant, which presents several problems that currently impacts the care of current and potential patients in our community.

When staffed with a dentist, VIM is able to serve patients at twice as many appointments and provide more consistent care. This helps patients take a more proactive approach to their health, manage their pain, preserve teeth, and improve quality of life. This role truly impacts our community. In fact, VIM anticipates 17,000 area residents meet the clinic’s eligibility requirements based on the U.S. Census. New Braunfels and the surrounding area are frequently ranked as the fastest-growing region in the country, which means the need to fill this position will only become more crucial.

If you are a licensed Texas dentist looking to leverage your dental skills to help those in need, consider VIM as an opportunity. The dentist position is part-time, 12 hours a week Tuesday-Thursday — a small commitment with a big impact. With your help, we can help the underserved in our community gain access to the care they need.

Perhaps you’re interested in helping but are not currently looking for an employment opportunity. VIM relies on caring volunteers to provide preventative dental care and treatment for our community. Your commitment of half a day each month can make a huge difference.

I hope you will join me in meeting the growing dental needs of our community. For more information about volunteering or employment, email me at info@nbcm.org, call 830-999-6226, or visit nbcm.org.

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