In the years since he retired as a full-time dentist, Dr. Rudy Fulton has been all over the world providing dental services to those in need.
Fulton has traveled to India, Jerusalem and all across Europe. But he was surprised to find the biggest need for dental care he had ever seen was in the backyard of his Friendswood dental practice he ran for more than 20 years.
“I don’t think I’ve seen people more in need of dental care than here,” Fulton said.
In the United States, many people have access to some of the best oral health care in the world, yet millions are unable to get even the basic dental care they need.
More than 47 million people live in places where it is difficult to access dental care.
Beginning last spring, Fulton and nine other area dentists began serving Lighthouse Christian Ministries’ dental clinic to help bridge that gap.
The clinic, Bayview Dental Clinic, opened in the spring of 2015 in Bayview. It serves low income, uninsured residents of Galveston County who are in need of dental care, said Erika Steele, executive director of Lighthouse Christian Ministries.
Lighthouse Christian Ministries began serving families in the upper Galveston Bay Area in 1997. Today, the organization has several branches to its ministry that serve people’s health-related, educational and short-term assistance needs.
Tucked away just a few blocks away from the bay, Bayview Dental Clinic is in a suite previously owned by Buddy and Sylvia Gregory.
Dentists at the clinic started out just removing cavities and putting fillings in, but have expanded to other services beyond, Fulton said.
“Patients pay $5 to $15 per appointment based on their income,” Steele said.
Galveston County residents don’t have to be referred to the clinic, she said.
The money goes to replenish supplies for the clinic, Fulton said.
The clinic is staffed by dental professionals who volunteer their time to provide care to those in need, she said.
Last year, the clinic served 31 patients with more than $42,000 worth of dental care. As of March 31 this year, the clinic has already brought in 22 new patients and performed $35,000 worth of treatments.
Those treatments include everything from cleanings to fillings and extractions, Steele said.
“I can’t believe it’s taken off the way that it has,” Fulton said. “It’s amazing how you can go from nothing to something in just under a year.”
Often, the dentists at the clinic see patients who haven’t been to a dentist in more than 10 years.
One woman Fulton saw recently had nine abscesses in her mouth, he said.
“Every time she bit down to chew, she was in pain,” Fulton said. “She had been having to eat soft food for the last five to six years.”
Now, after extracting all of her teeth, she has an appointment to get fitted for dentures, he said.
For the clinic’s patients, getting dental care to improve their health not only relieves their pain, but gives them confidence, Fulton said.
“God has been so good to us,” he said. “They say, ‘If you want to do God’s work, you find out where he’s working’ — that was definitely the case here.”