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Wright Center dental team salvages man’s damaged teeth, confidence


No longer ashamed of his teeth, James Coursen can head out to public places with his friends and family, including mother Jennifer Coursen, and not feel as if he has to hide his mouth behind his hand or a mask.

Scranton resident beams after getting care he wanted at an affordable price

James Coursen shielded his top teeth from view all the time, even adopting an awkward way of holding his hand and fork in front of his mouth during meals with friends.

His smile had become a cause of embarrassment. His mouth, a source of misery.

The Scranton resident, now 21, sustained an accidental injury in 2019 around the time he graduated from high school. A heavy metal object fell and smashed into his mouth, he says, shattering the enamel across most of his top row of teeth.

Coursen, like many young adults who are only beginning their careers, had neither a high-paying job nor a top-shelf insurance plan to pay for oral care, so he coped with the situation as best he could. When he chewed, he pushed his food away from the injured teeth and carefully used only the back-right corner of his mouth, where his molars could do the work. He stopped eating all sting-inducing cold foods, including ice cream.

But he could no longer properly care for his teeth with his typical daily regimen; even the simple act of brushing or getting minty gel on the damaged, sensitive areas would radiate extreme pain. Over the next year, the situation only worsened. “It felt like my entire head was throbbing constantly,” he says.

At wit’s end, Coursen visited the local office of a large dental chain. It was recommended that all his damaged teeth be pulled. It seemed as if before he even reached the age to legally consume an alcoholic beverage, he would be fitted for dentures – an ego-bruising prospect that he wanted to avoid, he says.

Then a neighbor suggested that he visit The Wright Center for Community Health.

Image of James Coursen's dental before and after.

With damaged teeth, even basic oral care like brushing became painful for James Coursen. He required multiple dental procedures conducted over many months to regain a healthy mouth, as reflected in these before and after photos.

Coursen scheduled an exam at The Wright Center’s Scranton Practice, where he met a caring dental team whose members recognized the severity of the situation, soothed his nerves about needles and the complexity of his case, and soon began a long-term restoration plan that called for minimal, if any, extractions.

“When The Wright Center’s dental team told me that they like to save as many teeth as possible no matter the challenge, I was very happy,” he recalls. “I could have cried, I was so happy.”

To meet a significant demand in Northeast Pennsylvania for affordable, high-quality dental care, The Wright Center has in recent years hired more dental professionals and greatly expanded its services.

Today it offers exams, cleanings, X-rays, fillings, oral cancer screenings, emergency services, extractions, crowns, bridges, root canals, implants and denture care.

The Wright Center currently operates two state-of-the-art dental clinics, one at its Mid Valley Practice in Jermyn, which has six dental chairs, and one at its Scranton Practice, with four chairs. It also schedules dental clinics each month at its Hawley Practice in Wayne County and can deploy its mobile medical/dental vehicle, called Driving Better Health, to the region’s rural and other underserved communities.

“If you haven’t visited a dentist for a while, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to make an appointment with us,” says Dr. Caitlin McCarthy. “The Wright Center is committed to providing excellent care to every single person, no matter who they are or where they come from or their financial situation.” 

McCarthy is one of the providers who assisted Coursen during his extensive treatment, and she serves as program director for an Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency offered at The Wright Center since 2021 through a partnership with NYU Langone Dental Medicine. 

Dentists in the residency training program gain valuable experience while also helping The Wright Center by further expanding access to dental care in the region, where oral health can be negatively affected by factors including high rates of tobacco and illicit drug use, a lack of fluoridated public water supplies and persistent pockets of poverty.

After a long road, there’s reason to smile

The team working with Coursen ultimately performed nearly a half-dozen root canals and did crown work and fillings over multiple visits. The process began around March 2021 and ended in June 2022. They succeeded in not only filling the gaps where decay had spoiled Coursen’s once-bright smile, but also rebuilding the esteem of a young man who admittedly viewed pandemic masks as a mixed blessing, because they hid his face.

“I was very self-conscious then about my mouth,” he says. “Today, as you can see, I have proper teeth. I can actually smile without being worried about it. I’m definitely more confident.” 

A “Star Wars” devotee and gamer, Coursen participated during his high school years in graphic arts training through the Career Technology Center of Lackawanna County. He twice advanced to state-level competition in the SkillsUSA program that promotes workforce development and fosters technical skills.

James In The Dentist Chair

Prior to arriving at The Wright Center for Community Health, James Coursen had been told several of his damaged teeth would need to be pulled. The Wright Center dental team, however, managed to save almost all of them, filling gaps and giving him restored confidence about his appearance.

He sometimes struggles with social anxiety, he says, which understandably compounded his concern about flashing a smile that after the accident seemed more jack-o-lantern than Jon Hamm or Bradley Cooper.

Coursen’s lengthy treatment plan at The Wright Center wasn’t without its setbacks. When one of his initial temporary fillings dropped out, he was distraught, believing the pain he had been living with would never go away and the entire process might be doomed to failure. “They reassured me,” he says. 

General dentist Dr. Caitlin McCarthy of The Wright Center for Community Health’s Scranton Practice shows patient James Coursen his restored smile. The Scranton man’s upper teeth had been badly damaged in an accident, and he was relieved to find a place where he could receive high-quality treatment at a price he could afford.

Coursen also was supported by The Wright Center’s staff in determining how to afford the procedures, which had been a concern of his from the outset. He was encouraged to apply for the organization’s sliding-fee discount program, which in combination with insurance coverage ultimately saved him significant expense. “My family and I were very thankful for that,” he says. 

These days, Coursen is quick to display his pearly whites and looking forward to re-entering the job market. He also is back to his usual healthy dental care routine of regular flossing and brushing – with one notable improvement.

“The Wright Center’s dental team recommended I get an electric toothbrush, and I did,” he says. “It allows me to clean a lot better – and I no longer need to worry about a brush triggering any pain.”

For information about dental and other health care services available at The Wright Center for Community Health’s primary care practices in Northeast Pennsylvania, call 570.230.0019 or visit TheWrightCenter.org/services.

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