MECC To Host First-Ever Southwest Virginia Oral Health Summit

Big Stone Gap — Mountain Empire Community College will host the first-ever Southwest Virginia Oral Health Summit, a virtual conference, on September 11 and 18. 

The Summit is designed for both community members and oral healthcare providers and will feature continuing education opportunities. Panelists will focus on dental health issues in rural Appalachia, including Virginias Medicaid expansion, links between oral and systemic health, public health trends, a regional opioid epidemic, and the current dental workforce and future recruitment needs.   

The conference will be a two-part series, held on Friday, September 11 from 9 a.m. to noon, and again on Friday, September 18 from 9 a.m. to noon. Admission is free, but registration is required. Registration for the event is available at 

Through a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University, eight hours of Continuing Education credits will be available for $25 per participant. Sponsors for the event include Dentaquest Partnership, Anthem Health-Keepers, Lenowisco Planning District Commission, University of Virginia’s College at Wise Healthy Appalachia Institute, Mountain Empire Community College, and the Mountain Empire Community College Foundation.  

For decades, the Appalachian area has faced many dental related stereotypes and challenges. The Lenowisco Planning District, along with UVA-Wise and Mountain Empire Community College, want to highlight success stories in our region. We also hope to create a networking opportunity among community members, fostering a platform for growth and expansion of dental care,” says Dr. Emily Bowen, Dental Assistant Program Director for MECC.  

The keynote speaker for the event is Dr. Omar Abubaker, DMD. Dr. Abubaker has been on the Faculty at VCU School of Dentistry and VCU Medical Center since 1991, and he currently serves as Chairman of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. After the tragic loss of his youngest son to an opioid overdose, Dr. Abubaker became involved with education and research in the field of addiction and pain management.  

Dr. Abubaker has appeared with numerous state and national organizations on these topics over the past two years, and quickly rose to the forefront of addiction specialists. Because of his personal connection to the opioid epidemic, he champions reform among prescribers in the dental field, changing the curriculum at medical and dental schools across the country. Dr. Abubaker holds a Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies from the International Program in Addiction Studies which is jointly housed in Virginia Commonwealth University, The University of Adelaide, Australia, and Kings College London, England.  

Mary Otto is a Washington Post journalist who began writing about oral health, focusing on social issues, including health care and poverty. She is also the author of Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, an NPR Best Book of 2017. Otto continues to write about health and social issues as a freelance writer for the Post, as a contributing writer for an online publication for oral health professionals called, and as the editor of Street Sense, a newspaper produced and sold by homeless men and women in Washington, DC. 

Emilie Bonovitch, RDH, will speak on recent COVID developments and the impact those new restrictions on dental clinicians. Making a comparison between the historic AIDS crisis and the Bloodborne Pathogen Universal Protocols that were derived from that, the dental industry expects COVID restrictions to reformat the respiratory and infection control standards again. Bonovitch has served as a dental hygienist in the Greater Richmond, Virginia area for the last six years.  She has represented the state of Virginia as a delegate to ADHAs House of Delegates for the last four years. Most recently, she completed a term as President of the Virginia Dental Hygienists’ Association (VDHA) and is now serving an extended term as Immediate Past President. 

The planning committee has worked diligently to prepare an agenda packed with distinguished speakers covering a broad spectrum of topics relevant to our area. Although this event was originally scheduled as an on-campus forum, current circumstances lead us to a transition this to a virtual conference; however, we hope it may work to our advantage to ultimately reach a larger audience, added Bowen.  

For more information on the event, please contact Dr. Emily Bowen at 276-523-2400×760 or by email at