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From the outside, the Christian Dental Clinic, 2538 Lancaster Ave., looks like a home in the neighborhood.

But on the inside, what used to be living room and bedroom spaces are now part of a modern dentist office that has provided free dental care since 1996.

Dr. Ralph Thacker, an Owensboro native whose practice is in Livermore, was one of the founding dentists.

Thacker said the clinic’s roots began in 1993 with treating the Hispanic population in the area.

“We had a pastor’s wife in the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association who had a calling to reach out to the Hispanic migrant workers,” Thacker said. “And we formed a volunteer clinic just for one day. We brought in a number of dentists and invited a lot of the Hispanic immigrants for exams and treatment.”

For Thacker, he was drawn to help others with not only their physical needs, but also their spiritual life as part of a personal ministry.

“I guess I always wanted to give back to disadvantaged people,” Thacker said. “But being a Christian, I wanted to connect by sharing the Gospel about what I think is eternal truth and about God sending his son to die for the sins of mankind. And that’s a big thing with me, and I can’t really do that in my private office.”

While the dentists donate their time, the clinic’s expenses and dental equipment are paid by the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association.

“We’re pretty well equipped because the Baptist Association has helped fund some of these nice things,” Thacker said. “We do a lot in a small space.”

At the free clinic, the volunteers pray openly and seek permission from patients to talk about their faith.

Nada McDonough, who serves at the clinic as a layperson chaplain, said she began volunteering a few years ago after attending a Christian Dental Clinic volunteer appreciation banquet.

“We always start out with prayer at the beginning of the day with everyone,” McDonough said. “And when new patients come in and they have a need, I will pray with them. We’ll talk about their spiritual needs; we’ll talk about their relationship with Christ … and we’ll try to connect them with a church if they don’t have one already.”

Along with Thacker, Owensboro dentist Dr. Terry Ward also volunteers at the clinic. The two have been rotating on the Fridays they’re open, performing checkups, oral surgeries, fillings and extractions.

In April, Josh Whitt, an Owensboro periodontist, is expected to join the cause. Periodontal care usually involves gum grafting, implants and treatments normal cleanings can’t fix.

Whitt, who is a Calhoun native, said he had heard Thacker mention it at a Green River Dental Society meeting and was looking to start getting involved in the community.

“We’re all called to serve in different ways,” Whitt said. “And this has been pulling at me for the past couple of years.”

According to Thacker, 99% of the patients are adults who do not have any financial means to help pay for oral care.

“We are totally free and hold the clinic for people who are out of work and without dental insurance; they’re usually having tough times,” Thacker said.

To receive a voucher for the clinic, patients need to go through the Help Office of Owensboro, which can be contacted at 270-685-4971, or the Help Office of McLean County at 270-278-5500.

Currently, the clinic operates from 8 am to noon two Fridays a month.

Thacker said they’re in need of volunteer hygienists and dentists, which would allow the clinic to be open more.

“We’re looking for mission-minded dentists, hygienists and dental assistants,” Thacker said. “We can train someone to be a dental assistant or work at the front desk. But you have to have a license to be a hygienist or a dentist. We could start another Friday morning.

“It’s a mission; you just learn to do with what you have.”

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