VCU dental students Tonya Spangler, Sebastian Viski and Natalie West (left to right) take a break from treating a patient at the Community Dental Clinic in Uptown Martinsville.

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While students and their families and teachers are returning to school, the dental students at the Community Dental Clinic are working toward the completion of their education.

Four fourth-year dental students from VCU are treating patients at the Clinic in Uptown Martinsville.  The students spend several weeks working and living in the Clinic to gain valuable practical experience and to provide quality care to underserved patients in the community.

It’s the beginning of the 14th year of the clinic, which has provided for more than $11.5 million in services to the community, experiencing more than 51,000 patient visits. In the last year, the clinic handled 4,661 patient visits and provided dental services valued at $990,000.

Three VCU students shared their thoughts after treating patients at the clinic. Tonya Spangler from Richmond, Sebastian Viski from Romania, and Natalie West from Rockport, IL are delighted with their experiences at the clinic.

“The Dental Clinic is well-organized and efficiently managed,” said Spangler. “We’re grateful to be here. It’s a heart-warming experience which has a high level of learning for us.”

Spangler said the experience in Martinsville is a “tremendous value” to her and her fellow students.  “We’re learning to put dental care in a real-life setting, and the patients appreciate it.” She plans to continue her dental education in orthodontics.

Viski says his dream was to come to the United States for “better work and life opportunities on my own.” He completed his undergraduate degree at VCU, so he has lived in Richmond for eight years.

“Taking care of the underserved population gives me a good feeling,” he said. “Patients leave with their confidence and smiles back after treatment. While we’re serving the patient, we are growing in our knowledge and skill levels.”

Viski plans to continue his dental education with a residency in prosthodontics, a subspecialty in which dentists replace a patient’s total mouth of teeth.

West will become a general dentist and is considering public health in a smaller community.

“I love the hometown feel of Martinsville,” said West. “The fast-paced environment of the clinic has allowed us to grow our skills and demonstrated the quality of care we provide. Here, we’re not stuck in the bubble that we are in school.”

The students credit the staff of the clinic for giving them a positive experience. Dr. Jim Hartigan is the dentist, Lilly Dominguez, dental assistant, and Teresa White, manager “have made this a wonderful time for us,”’ said West. “The clinic is well-organized and quite efficient.”

The clinic is operated by the Dental Health Foundation, led by Dr. Mark Crabtree and Dr. Edward (Chopper) Snyder.

“As we enter our 14th year, we are continually grateful for the support of the community,” Crabtree said. “Hundreds of individuals, groups, businesses and foundations provide the financial support for us to operate the clinic, but we would not exist without the strong financial support of the Harvest Foundation.”

Private dentists in the community volunteer their time to help supervise care provided by the VCU dental students. The Foundation also supports students studying dental hygiene and dental assisting to complete a wide range of training in the Martinsville-Henry County community.