‘Please, please, please help me’: Newport News dentist answers the poor’s cries for help


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Some walk, some ride bikes, and others catch a ride with friends. With little advanced publicity, patients in severe pain are showing up at the new dental clinic inside the Riverside Primary Care Clinic on 25th Street in downtown Newport News.

Riverside shares space with the Community Free Clinic of Newport News which offers dental care for those without insurance. The new practice is operated by Dr. Richard Sweeney, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry alum who specializes in treatment for at-risk patients.

In other words: no appointment, no problem. Under the Riverside Health System-based model, no one is ever turned away.

“People are coming in off the streets quite literally saying ‘Please, please, please help me.’ All too often, a person will come into our office and they haven’t seen a dentist in over 30 years; back when their parents took them,” said Sweeney.

His practice, with one treatment room, covers patients who have Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance.

When many of his patients open their mouths for an examination, he sees up close what happens when health is neglected from head to toe.

“You take a look at someone’s mouth you see grossly decayed teeth; you see fugal infections. You see chronic gingivitis, bleeding, and oral cancer at its worst. These are all indicators that someone has not been part of the health system,” said Sweeney.

Illustration by Peter Hamlin.

Because the clinic is connected to the Riverside Health System, Sweeney can quickly connect patients with specialists who treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

“Uncontrolled diabetes, untreated diabetes, cardiovascular diseases — all kinds of diseases — where the risk factors show themselves in the mouth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 40% of low-income, working-age adults, have untreated tooth decay. Sweeney wants patients to know dental problems such as an abscess can kill.

“A single bacteria can go from your mouth all the way to your heart and travel around your body, so please do not ignore dental care because the rest of your body is counting on you,” said Sweeney.

Dental services are offered Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 727 25th Street, Newport News, Virginia, 23607. 

To schedule an appointment call 757-316-5210. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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