Twice a month, Dr. John Landis brings portable dental equipment to the Hope Center to work with the homeless.
"Our staff, they have the empathy, they listen and they educate, and they want to improve the lives of individuals in the community and the homeless population," said Landis, dental director for HealthFirst Bluegrass.
Landis, who is from Lexington, spent 12 years in private practice in Harlan. Working with the impoverished in Eastern Kentucky helped drive home for him the importance of good dental health for the poor, he said. For many, a lack of good dental health can be among the reasons they are struggling. Not only can bad teeth result in poor nutrition, they can be a barrier to employment, he said.
If Landis and his staff can correct dental problems, they can help patients gain confidence and rebuild their lives.
"I deeply believe patients are rich in character and heart and soul," he said. "They might not have a roof over their head, but they are never poor."
Folks from the Hope Center also may go to the dental clinic at 650 Newtown Pike, where there are six dental chairs and three full-time dentists. All together, the clinic serves about 1,400 people a year, Landis said. That represents, as he likes to point out, some 45,000 teeth.
There is space to add a seventh chair, and Landis hopes to attract enough new patients to expand the clinic. HealthFirst has applied for a $52,000 grant to add the needed equipment.
HealthFirst is planning to move its medical clinic out of 650 Newtown Pike in the fall. But Landis said the dental clinic would remain there, in part because of the proximity to the Hope Center. And he's grateful for that.
"The homeless population, it could be a friend from high school, an old neighbor, someone who lost their job," he said. "Bad things happen to good people."