Dr. Dennis Canter is committed to equal access for all
A visit to the dentist can be full of dread and anxiety, but White House Dental Clinic hopes to instill a sense of ease for the 15 to 20 students who walk through its doors each day. Conveniently located next to campus, inside Saint Joseph Berea Hospital, the clinic provides Berea’s students with everything from basic hygiene and cleanings to fillings and root canals, at no cost to the student.
After more than 40 years in business, White House Clinics operates nine facilities that include pharmacies, labs, mental health professionals, nutritionists and more, all available to students while they attend Berea. Because Berea College only admits low-income students, many of whom have not had adequate access to care, these services can be vital to a student’s well-being in college.
Started in 1973 by Kentuckian Dr. Phil Curd, the clinic got its name from the small white house from which Dr. Curd operated. After returning from the Peace Corps, Curd wished to serve those from his home state who needed healthcare the most. That passion for helping the underserved continues to this day with Dr. Dennis Canter and his staff.
Dr. Canter grew up in Mayfield, Ky., and attended the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. Upon graduation, he worked in Louisville’s West End, providing low-income families with accessible dental care. It was there that he became fully aware of the needs of the working poor. After some time in Louisville, he came to White House Clinics in Richmond, Ky., and soon transferred to the Berea location. In total, he has been at White House Clinics for about 15 years.
The clinic focuses on what Dr. Canter calls “Phase One Preventive Care.” Just as Berea College helps make education accessible for all, Canter hopes to make dental care accessible for all because, as he says, “Healthcare is not equal-access.”
Canter says the need for this clinic is so great because many Berea students have never been to a dentist. Berea College is unique in recognizing this need among students and seeking out care for them. The dental clinic is just one among many ways the College strives to meet students’ basic needs so they can thrive academically and socially.
The clinics are Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), which means they are a non-profit, providing healthcare services to low-income individuals. The clinics also belong to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), a network of healthcare providers committed to serving the uninsured and underinsured.
This work resonates with Canter, who estimates he has seen hundreds of students. Though he also sees members of the surrounding community as needed, he says he would love to be able to see only Berea College students because he connects with them more and enjoys hearing their stories. Canter calls the students who come through “his kids,” and it is clear he truly cares for them like his own children.
If he could, he would not only expand the clinic to offer more hygiene access to students but also go beyond basic care to provide services like orthodontia, so students do not have to be referred outside the clinic and pay out of pocket for those services. But even orthodontic services, thanks to special funds provided by generous Berea College donors, have been covered in the past.
Canter also wishes there was enough support to be “on-demand” and at the students’ convenience based on their schedules. Berea students often are busy with not only classes and homework but also working 10 or more hours a week in their student labor positions, so scheduling a dental appointment can be difficult.
Students are by and large very grateful for the opportunity to have their dental needs addressed, and the passion and kindness of the staff surely makes it worthwhile. It does not seem lost on students that this is a unique opportunity, Canter says.
“I have yet to have any student not be thankful for the work we are able to do for them,” he emphasized.
For Canter, the experience of making a difference in the lives of students who need it is the most rewarding part. “That means everything to me,” he said.