Written by Noah Logan
Photos by Steve Babin
The first Spotlight of summer is officially shining on Julia Nabors and her work as Executive Director of the Community Free Dental Clinic, which helps nearly 300 people a month maintain dental health, free of charge. The Community Free Dental Clinic opened in 2013 and is the only organization of its kind, providing free dental services to low-income, elderly, and veterans living at or below the poverty level in Madison County. Nabors has been with the clinic for five years and during her tenure, she has helped the clinic expand its range of services available for the community to include fillings and other preventative measures on top of extractions and regular cleanings. Nabors was working as a dental hygienist in Oneonta when she first learned about the clinic. She was preparing to graduate with a bachelor’s in health science from Athens State University and had already been considering the idea of opening a free dental clinic in Oneonta. The idea was very important to her because she had recently experienced what it was like to have trouble affording dental care. “I wanted to start a free dental clinic because after my husband passed away, I experienced firsthand how difficult it can be to afford dental care for two small children plus myself,” she shared. “Before then, it had never really hit me just how badly some people need a free clinic. I had plans on starting one in my tiny hometown (Oneonta) when I learned about this one here and how it was already encompassing everything I wanted to be a part of.” Her dedication to the cause was apparent to those working at the clinic. The director at the time, Ginger Finzel, was struggling with Parkinson’s disease and needed someone to ensure the clinic’s future. Nabors was trained to serve as the next director while she finished her degree and was officially hired after graduating in April of 2017. When asked about the most rewarding aspect of her tenure so far, there is absolutely no hesitation in her answer. “Our grateful patients are definitely the most rewarding part,” she says. “You can see in a lot of our patient’s faces that they are underserved. My idea of a free clinic is a clinic that treats its patients with the same respect as those who go and pay a lot of money for their services. It provides them with the same care they would receive if they were wealthy. I believe dental care and health care should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it. The most rewarding part of the job the look of relief on someone’s face who is finally able to get out of pain because of the care we are able to provide.” You can hear the sincerity in her voice when she describes instances like helping a man that needed to start chemo treatments for his oral cancer but couldn’t pay to have all of his teeth pulled. Through the clinic, the man received the needed treatment and is now undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
Nabors has succeeded in turning what appears like a “problem” for the clinic into positive developments. She was presented with an unexpected problem when the clinic first reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic. Before it reopened, the clinicians treating the patients were mostly retired dentists in the Huntsville and Madison area. When the time arrived to reopen, many of the older volunteers understandably couldn’t return due to their age making them more vulnerable to the virus. Nabors had a labor shortage that needed solving immediately if the clinic was going to reopen. She found the solution through a partnership with the UAB School of Dentistry. Through the partnership, UAB’s dental students come to the clinic two or three times a week and treat patients. The end result is a mutually beneficial development that provides the clinic with a reliable source of labor while letting the students satisfy their community outreach credits needed for their degree. Another accomplishment that Nabors is proud of is the addition of fillings to the list of provided services. She explained that the main focus is still on tooth extractions because an infected tooth can result in patients becoming sick enough to need medical attention at a hospital. However, fillings and other preventative care measures can lower the total number of teeth that need to be pulled by preventing further decay of teeth that have cavities for a prolonged period of time. She added that fillings provide extra benefits aesthetically in the sense that often times getting a filling on a tooth instead of losing it altogether can result in a patient having better job opportunities or even just added confidence to their appearance. Nabors’ next goal for the clinic is to buy the building they currently lease at 2341 Whitesburg Drive. At the time of writing, the organization has raised roughly half of the required funds. In addition to contributions toward the purchase of the building, the clinic is need of dental equipment, dental supplies, office supplies, gloves, masks, and disinfectant that are used on a daily basis. They also collect personal and dental hygiene items to provide their homeless patients. To support the clinic visit their website at https://www.hsvfreedental.org.