Imagine being out of work with no dental insurance.

Now picture yourself having an excruciating toothache. Where do you go?

The pain can get so bad that many patients end up in the emergency room.

To cut costs of expensive ER visits and to help patients in need, Swedish Medical Center teamed up with community foundations to provide specialty dental care.

When you start taking in the emergency room and needing to be hospitalized, it can get into the thousands of dollars just to take care of a simple -- what started as a simple tooth infection, dentist Amy Winston said.

Access to dental care can also help patients beyond relieving pain. John Vaughan, a patient at the new clinic, said he's unemployed. A few things going against me when I go to look for work, my age, my teeth and I figure anything I can do to level the playing field a bit is going to help, he said.

Vaughan is having his teeth removed so he can be fit with dentures.

Participating dentist Bart Johnson said the program is launching with an extraction clinic. Over time we're ramping up where we'll do root canals and other speciality care here that the community clinics can't, he said.

The clinic's organizers estimate it will see up to 450 patients in the first year of operation, and 2,000 in year two. The clinic is located in the Heath Building next to Swedish Medical Center on First Hill.

Patients need a referral through Swedish or from other low-income health clinics in the area.

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