HARTS — Dr. Jon Paul Kardos sees some of the worst teeth in West Virginia.He’s the only dentist here at the Harts Health Center in Lincoln County. He takes care of about 20 people a day, patients with gum disease, lip cancer, swollen faces and rotted teeth. The clinic serves mostly low-income patients.“We get young people who come in and say, ‘I want them all taken out,’” said Kardos, who has worked at the rural clinic for seven years. “They don’t realize how difficult it is to function with all of their teeth out. It’s awful.”But Kardos, 37, doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
He drives 50 minutes each day from his home in South Charleston. About half his patients have insurance through Medicaid. The other half have no insurance or private insurance. The clinic offers a sliding-fee scale to make dental work affordable.Many of Kardos’ patients can’t get appointments with dentists in private practice. They come from Lincoln, Boone and Logan counties.“The private practices won’t accept Medicaid, and we do,” Kardos said.As a dentist at a nonprofit clinic, Kardos can spend nearly all his time seeing patients. He doesn’t have to worry about billing patients, paying employees and buying supplies — tasks that private dentist must deal with every day.“I feel really comfortable working here,” Kardos said. “It can get really fast paced. We’re here for people’s basic dental needs.”Kardos wanted to be a dentist ever since he was in the sixth grade. He went to college at West Virginia Wesleyan, then graduated from West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry.Kardos next spent a year at the CAMC Dental Center clinic in Charleston and five years at a hospital dental clinic in Logan County.“A lot of people had family members who are dentists, and they just go right into private practice,” Kardos said.Kardos’ wife is a dental hygienist in Charleston. His brother is a dentist in private practice in Nitro.Kardos has never had a cavity in his life. He brushes three times a day, flosses and gets his teeth cleaned by a hygienist twice a year.He never eats sweets, and his mouth produces above-normal amount of saliva, which keeps his teeth clean, he said.
Kardos figures he’ll continue to work in a rural dental clinic “as long as they’ll have me.” There’s a shortage of dentists in rural parts of the state. And with the high cost of dentistry, most people with toothaches have nowhere else to turn.Kardos doesn’t turn anyone away.“There just aren’t enough dentists to take care of people down here,” Kardos said. “I can’t see working in the city ever again.”To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.