DR. BILL MILNER: A Texan-born dentist devotes his life to providing traveling dental care in central North Carolina.

AuthorInfanzon, Vanessa

Dr. Bill Milner knew as a teenager volunteering at a Fort Worth, Texas, hospital that he wanted to pursue dentistry. The work of oral surgeons fascinated him, leading to biology and dentistry degrees at Baylor University.

Most of his dental school classmates headed to private practice after graduation in 1975, but Milner saw gaps in care within communities. More people with disabilities were being dismissed from institutions, and lots of stigmas existed for elderly patients and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and HIV. The newly trained dentist was impressed by barefoot doctors in China who traveled from village to village and Dr. Paul Farmer's work among Haiti's impoverished population.

He and his wife, Susan Milner, moved to Asheboro in 1975 for a staff dentist position with the state of North Carolina. He was an itinerant dentist for five years, moving among public schools, with antiquated equipment and no X-rays.

For the next 20 years, he worked four days a week as the director of Randolph County's dental program. On Fridays, Milner and his hygienist, Betsy White, carried portable equipment in the trunk of his Ford Taurus and provided dental care for residents at six facilities in Guilford and Randolph counties through their own private practice.

In 2000, Milner and White founded Access Dental Care as a nonprofit bringing comprehensive dental care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and seniors living in 25 group homes and nursing centers. Cone Health Foundation in Greensboro gave $365,000 for start-up costs, enough to purchase a truck and equipment and operate for six months.

At each facility, the physician-hygienist team unloads the equipment and works in a familiar environment to the patient, such as an activity room.

In 2022, Access Dental Care's annual budget reached $3.3 million from grants for capital expenses, insurance programs, Medicaid reimbursement, private pay and fees from facilities. The group now serves 160 facilities in 60 counties with five teams each seeing 15 to 18 patients a day, or more than 6,200 in 2022.

The plan is to increase it to 10 teams and cover the entire state in the next five years.

States are required to provide dental services for people under 21 with Medicaid insurance, but there are no minimum requirements for adult coverage under the government program. About a third of adults ages 19-64 do not have dental benefits, according to the American Dental...

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