NEWPORT NEWS. Va. – Dr. Richard Sweeney is helping to bridge the gap in racial and ethnic disparities in dental care.
He’s serving underinsured patients in underserved neighborhoods at Riverside Primary Care Community Clinic in Newport News as the region’s first dentist to practice as part of a healthcare system.
The community clinic is part of Riverside Medical Group.
“In this clinic, we recognize the disparities in the community - especially in the south side of the Peninsula - of how many people do not have access to dental care just based on the sheer volume of patients that come into the free clinic,” said Sweeney.
By adding dental care to Riverside’s health services, Sweeney has quick access to a patient’s medical records, which helps to spot and effectively treat underlying health conditions.
“If you have untreated dental disease, you’re going to be left with comorbidities that are going to be associated with your overall health - untreated heart disease, diabetes, all kinds of things,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney is also providing dental trauma care in the Riverside Regional Medical Center’s emergency room on an as-needed basis.
“That’s why it’s important to be in a hospital setting because you have immediate access to a patient’s medical records, so you can know whether or not these patients are at-risk for these other conditions that a dentist in a private sector may not be aware of,” he said.
The unique dental program helps to break down barriers to access to care.
Disadvantaged patients who come to the hospital and suddenly find themselves in need of emergency dental work are connected with resources and services at the clinic.
Sweeney remembers one of his recent patients who she said is a recovering addict. She didn’t have dental insurance when she came to the hospital for an unrelated problem, so they helped the woman apply for Medicaid, and they are helping her with her dental issues.
“Upon discharge, she came over here and she was crying pretty much the whole time, just so thankful to finally have access to dental care because now that she’s in recovery, she wants to get her life back together, and we’re going to be able to make that happen,” Sweeney said. “It was so nice to know that you’re going to help somebody and to see the true emotion on her face.”
Dental services are offered Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the office located at 727 25th Street, Newport News, Va. To schedule an appointment, call 757-316-5210. For more information, click here.