Local Start Dental seeks to change the way low-income patients access oral health care
By Claire Burch
Local Start Dental started the way many great ideas often do – by putting two and two together. Scott de Rossi, former dean of UNC Adams School of Dentistry,
and Doug Brown, one of Scott’s advisory board members, knew there was a need for free or low-cost oral health care for low-income patients in the area. They also recognized there was a shortage of opportunities for UNC dental students to perfect certain techniques.
The concept behind Local Start Dental created a symbiotic relationship between the two. It launched in 2018 and was officially established as a nonprofit in 2019. “It’s kind of a win-win for the community,” says Doug, now president of Local Start.
Their plans generated buzz among local dentists, and they were greeted with “great feedback, great receptivity and a lot of excitement,” says Dr. Mark Scurria, a prosthodontist at Triangle Restoration Dentistry. He and Dr. Desiree Palmer, a general dentist and owner of Desiree T. Palmer, DMD, PA and Associates and Bull City Dental, joined as board members soon after.
“I have a particular passion for providing denture care, so Local Start was a natural fit for me,” Dr. Scurria says. Dr. Palmer adds that “the mission and the vision of the group and the services that would be provided” are what excited her most. will be provided by Carbon, a 3D printing company cofounded by former UNC professor Joseph DeSimone. Dr. Scurria says the digital revolution in denture care is making great strides, enabling Local Start to perform procedures in half the time without compromising quality.
The model is simple: UNC dental students, alongside local experts in the oral health care field, perform procedures like tooth replacements and denture fittings on residents who have little to no access to this type of care. Part of the organization’s mission centers on building confidence both for the dental students and for the patients, who are oftentimes overlooked for a lack of insurance coverage. “This gives us an opportunity to raise their confidence, get them ready for jobs and possible employment prospects,” Dr. Palmer says. “That’s important to me.”
This one idea has now manifested into a 5,000-square-foot facility. The clinic is currently under construction at an affordable apartment building on Willard Street, which was strategically built close to Durham’s regional bus station. The nonprofit is slated to house 10 operatories, a classroom space and a dental laboratory, among other features. Local Start will use state-of-the-art technology, some of which
In addition to the work and resources this dedicated team is putting into the mission of the nonprofit, Doug also attributes this convergence to good fortune. “It was a really interesting combination of just luck, that multiple needs can be filled in one facility,” he says.
The Durham clinic is slated to open in August with a long-term goal to one day provide services for patients across 14 counties. They also want to aid other clinics, helping them get “[established] and learn from [Local Start Dental’s] success,” Doug says. “Those of us who have teeth can only imagine what it’s like to not be able to smile or get a job,” Dr. Scurria says. “If we send away some patients smiling, they might make their way over to get a meal somewhere, and it’ll be fun to watch.”