Michael Starling and his family have been through some hard times since moving to Chattanooga two years ago from Mississippi, but this holiday season, Starling is smiling wide because of a new set of dentures he received with the help of the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund.
The 37-year-old father of two said his new teeth are about more than just a nice smile for him. Starling, who has diabetes, said the poor condition of his teeth before he had dentures was affecting his health. The American Dental Association says people with diabetes are more prone to gum disease.
The Times Free Press annual charity appeal helped Starling by providing a one-time donation of $968 for his new dentures. The United Way of Greater Chattanooga manages the fund readers can make donations to over the holiday season to help their neighbors.
Starling received his new set of teeth from Hope for the Inner City's dental clinic, which helps low-income patients with emergency dental needs.
"I'm happy that there is somebody out there that does care about us younger people," said Starling, standing outside of his family's home. "In Mississippi, you can't even find help like that."
Dental clients at Hope for the Inner City have to pay for their services, but the agency offers uninsured people services on a sliding scale, said Joshua Livingston, enterprise development director.
"Neediest Cases is a great program that helps subsidize the costs of our dental care," Livingston said. "We welcome the partnership and hope to continue servicing clients that they refer to us."
Starling, his wife and two young boys, ages 2 and 4, live in a small home off Birmingham Highway with five other family members. They came to Chattanooga from Mississippi because they lost their home in a fire, he said.
Outside of his home, Starling pointed to his teeth and said they had been hurting lately. He will have to go in for a follow-up appointment with his dentist.
His father, David Starling, was in town visiting over Thanksgiving weekend.
"He's just got to get used to them," his father said. "I'm just glad he has them."
Starling said he knows it's important to take care of his new dentures.
"I'm thankful," he said. "If you take care of them, they'll take care of you."
Contact Allison Shirk at firstname.lastname@example.org.