Keep your teeth: Tree of Life Clinic readies for new free service

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tree of Life Free Clinic has nearly polished off renovations for a dental clinic at its West Main Street building.
The three newly constructed patient rooms will be filled with equipment donated by dentists from around the region and the state, including a dental x-ray machine.
“Boxes just started showing up on my doorstep,” said Tupelo dentist Mindy Austin, who has spearheaded the clinic’s dental efforts.
Five dentists, including Austin, have committed to volunteer their time and expertise to staff the dental clinic twice a month. Some oral surgeons have agreed to help with difficult cases, Austin said.
Those volunteer dentists will be busy once the space is completely finished next month. Currently, there are more than 250 Tree of Life patients who have been identified as needing dental care.
The care will be basic: Extracting badly damaged teeth.
“We’ll get the dental infections taken care of,” Austin said.
To be seen in the dental clinic, patients need to be referred by the volunteer medical professionals at the Tree of Life.
“If we see patients through the medical clinic, we’re going to have good medical histories on them,” Austin said.
The dental addition was made possible by a $40,000 grant from the George and Dot Ruff Foundation and a tremendous outpouring of donated supplies and labor.
“I can’t say enough about Danny Hester and the build team from Calvary,” said Dr. Joe Bailey, clinic president and founder. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
Jackson-based dental supplier Henry Shelton has donated the time and labor to properly install the donated equipment and will allow the clinic to purchase any needed supplies at cost.
“They’ve been a really big help,” Austin said.
The Tree of Life clinic is open to those without health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. Patients are seen on a first-come basis on the first Wednesday evening and third Saturday morning each month.
In the two years since the clinic opened, the medical mission clinic has logged more than 5,000 patient visits and provided 17,000 prescriptions free of charge.
“People are desperate,” for basic medical care, Bailey said. Some patients are driving from an hour away to receive care.
Last year, the clinic spent nearly $100,000. Nearly all of money went toward medicine; insulin alone accounted for $40,000.
The clinic, which has no paid staff, uses a model to provide basic care that many of its volunteers put to work in foreign medical missions.
“We continually need volunteers, especially medical volunteers,” as well as donations, Bailey said. “But we also need anyone who wants to be a part of something truly special.”

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