Cunningham receives health volunteerism award
by Patrick McCreless
Dentists have little problem getting their hands dirty to pull teeth.

But few will pull them for free.

Dr. Bruce Cunningham of Jacksonville is such a dentist. He helped organize the free Interfaith Adult Dental Clinic in 2008 in Anniston to serve low-income residents. After years of volunteering his time and knowledge to treat those less fortunate than himself, Cunningham has been recognized for his efforts.

The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama presented Cunningham on Friday with its 2012 Juliette P. Doster Award for outstanding volunteerism in community health. The Anniston-based foundation is a nonprofit with a family of funds that serves as a permanent endowment for the benefit of area residents. The foundation has given out the award since 1999. The award is named after Juliette Doster, chairwoman emeritus of the community foundation.

“We just want to honor people in our community who advance community health,” said Jennifer Maddox, president and CEO of the community foundation.

In addition to the award, Cunningham received $1,000 for the Interfaith Adult Dental Clinic.

Cunningham said he was honored by the award and thanked the many other volunteers who have made the dental clinic a success.

“I’ve been given this gift of dental education and I need to use it to serve others in a way that will benefit the community,” Cunningham said after the award ceremony. “I just feel that’s what God expects me to do.”

A practicing dentist since 1976, Cunningham’s professional life has been filled with community service, including traveling on mission trips to developing countries to provide free dental care. Cunningham also helped found the Anniston-based Sarrell Dental Clinic, which provides care to low-income children.

Cunningham helped found the adult dental clinic, part of Interfaith Ministries, after he saw the need for proper dental care in the area was not limited to children.

“The Interfaith Dental Clinic has been a driving force, providing urgent dental care to the underserved population in this community ... from the homeless to prisoners,” said Anne Carruth, chairman of the board of trustees for the community foundation. “Bruce volunteers there, solicits other dentists to volunteer and provides services in their offices when needed.”

To date, the adult clinic has had 643 patients, 246 of whom were referred to dental offices for treatment, free of charge. Cunningham said the clinic is open nearly every Friday and uses a varied number of volunteer dentists. At the clinic, dentists are limited to extracting damaged teeth.

“That’s all we’ve been able to do so far,” Cunningham said. “But when patients are referred to other dentists’ offices, we can do other things.”

The patients are first screened through Interfaith Ministries.

“They are evaluated from a financial need standpoint and then from a dental standpoint,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he hopes to one day expand the clinic’s services.

“We’d love to grow it and rehabilitate our patients — to replace patients’ teeth with dentures,” Cunningham said. “But the need so far outweighs the resources we have.”

Dentists who would like to volunteer at the clinic should call Cunningham at 256-435-2007. To donate money to the adult clinic, call Interfaith Ministries at 256-237-1472.
© 2013