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Governor lauds dentistry

By submitted, 12/19/21 11:25 AM

Today I’d like to share the inspiring story of a dentist who recently moved back to Arkansas to open a dental clinic in the rural county where he grew up. The story of Giles Willis giving back to his state is a good one to share at Christmas.
Giles grew up in Lewisville in Lafayette County. The only dentist in the county was in Stamps, six miles to the east. Giles admits that as a child, he ate a lot of candy and rarely brushed his teeth. When he was eight, he developed an excruciating toothache. So he rubbed Orajel on the tooth and gum and tried to pull his tooth with tweezers.
The next day, Giles’ mother took him to see Dr. Patrick Moseley in Stamps. Dr. Moseley pulled a baby tooth and filled the permanent tooth that was coming in behind it.
Relief was immediate, and Giles decided he wanted to become a dentist. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and graduated from Howard University’s dental school in Washington, D.C. Although he opened a practice in North Carolina, he always wanted to return to Arkansas.
In 2019, Giles learned that the building where Dr. Moseley had pulled his tooth was for sale. He bought the building, and earlier this year, Giles and his family moved back. Last week, he saw his first patients.
Giles has told his story many times since this spring when a TV station in Shreveport, Louisiana, featured it. Earlier this month, singer Kelly Clarkson highlighted Giles, his wife, Kimberly, and their daughter, Eden, on her nationally broadcast Christmas TV program. To the family’s surprise, Kelly Clarkson announced that she and a sponsor were donating $100,000 to help Giles set up his clinic. Delta Dental of Arkansas has given Giles a grant of over $30,000.
Dr. Giles Willis and the hundreds of other Arkansas dentists who care for the underprivileged face a big task. The cost of a dentist appointment is the Number 1 reason Arkansans don’t see a dentist, according to our Department of Health. Fear of dentists and finding a dentist were next on the list.
But there is good news. Communities and organizations have found ways to promote good oral health. More than 80 percent of our communities fluoridate their water; many schools participate in a program that offers sealants, which cut the risk of cavities. The Arkansas State Dental Association sponsors an annual Mission of Mercy clinic where 200 dentists see 2,000 patients over two days. The 2022 clinic is scheduled for late April in Conway.
Dentists such as Giles Willis are extraordinarily generous in caring for Arkansas’s underserved patients, says Billy Tarpley, executive director of the dental association. Fifteen percent of the dentists in Arkansas have a satellite clinic and travel to underserved areas. Mr. Tarpley says that when a school calls about a student with a horrible toothache, dentists say, ‘Bring him in the side door.’ Mr. Tarpley points out that care like that doesn’t show up on reports or produce income. Dentists do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Thank you, Dr. Willis and the more than 7,000 licensed Oral Health Professionals in Arkansas, for all you do to help keep our teeth healthy and our smiles bright.