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SALT LAKE CITY — Many people don't look forward to going to the dentist, but for the homeless, access to dental care can be a real gift. The Fourth Street Clinic is getting ready to open its first on-site dental clinic to help them.
For years, the Fourth Street Clinic has had to turn away people with several dental problems because it wasn't able to provide that type of care. Now a generous donation has allowed the clinic to hire its first, full-time dentist.
"The dental clinic's going to be fantastic," said Bill Torma. "There are so many people. Can you tell? I can actually use some."
Torma isn't embarrassed to show his toothless smile, but he said that's not always the case for people.
"It's like we're invisible, like we're throw aways," Torma said.
Gwen White does homeless outreach and said dental care is always the top demand from people on the street. While the Fourth Street Clinic offers health care to Utah's homeless, it hasn't been able to provide the much-needed dental care until now.
"What we're trying to do is put a face on homelessness, so what better way than to give them a smile," White said.
The clinic received grant money in 2012 to build the on-site dental facility. The first check was received Wednesday to pay a full-time dentist for the next five years.
"The story of seeing people change their lives actually has an effect on you," said Dr. Ronald Kehl.
Kehl worked at a public health clinic in Vernal and will start treating patients at the Fourth Street Clinic in January. He said the service will take the pressure off hospital emergency rooms, along with providing other benefits for the community.
"Oral health not only helps with nutritional where you can digest your food correctly, but it helps with confidence — it helps with seeking jobs," Kehl said. "It helps in your social aspect of life."
"It's something that's been such a need for so long,"Torma said. "There are people that I know out there that are in pain."
Torma was homeless for many years until the Fourth Street Clinic helped him find housing in July. He said the clinic also saved his life by giving him substance abuse and mental health treatment. He's now on the list to get dentures.
"It's going to be phenomenal," Torma said.
The clinic is mostly completed and there will be an open house on Jan. 23.