Samantha's 6-year-old might not care much for dentists, but she makes an exception for Dr. Tina Lucas Stoner.
"My girls love her. They always go and give her a hug," the Quincy woman said. "She's very, very patient with the children."
Working to keep the youngest patients relaxed does the same for their moms and dads, and it's all part of the first step in treating patients at the Adams County Dental Clinic at the Adams County Health Department.
"First we've got to gain their trust, get them out of pain, then restore function," Stoner said. "It's very gratifying, in my opinion, to see someone overcome those hurdles and walk out with a brand-new smile eventually."
The clinic, launched in 1995, helps low-income, disabled, elderly and fixed-income patients access dental care. Children are the primary focus for the two full-time and two part-time dentists at the clinic, which also sees adult patients who meet financial criteria.
"This was one of the first dental clinics set up in the public health system in the state of Illinois," Stoner said. "We act as a role model for counties seeking help for those same challenges in providing services. We have no limit to what services we provide. The only thing we don't do at this time is root canals, but we have the ability to outsource that."
Having the clinic available in Quincy is important to Samantha, who otherwise would have to struggle to find dental care.
"I want to make sure my kids have healthy teeth," she said.
Samantha and her two daughters have had basic checkups, fillings and extractions, and now they make appointments every two weeks to monitor a spacer to help one daughter whose mouth is too small for all her teeth.
"I'm very picky on who my children see. When I met Dr. Stoner, from the first time, I saw she was very caring. Then I was like, ‘This is OK for my kids,'" Samantha said.
Stoner's ingrained sense of care for those who may otherwise fall through the cracks comes from personal experience.
"I grew up in rural Missouri. I can identify with this," she said. "My parents had access-to-care issues themselves. We were involved with those programs, and for that reason I'm drawn to this. I've always had an internal mission of service."
Stoner will have more opportunities to promote that sense of mission to new dentists, thanks to an agreement with the Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health that will have the Adams County Dental Clinic serve as a training site for dental students.
"We're an ideal environment for future dentists to see what things are all about out there, and what's out there for them to do," Stoner said.
A long-standing partnership with Blessing Health System brings dental patients from the hospital to the clinic, opening up space at the hospital for medical patients.
"I sleep well every night. I know we're doing good work. It's very necessary. It's very rewarding," Stoner said.
Adams County Health Department Administrator Jerrod Welch said Stoner is one of the clinic's longest-serving dentists.
"She carried this clinic for a significant amount of time over the last couple of years," Welch said. "We're always recruiting, and there's always that fine line of can we afford to have somebody come in and can we afford not to have them come in."
Plans for a mobile clinic, part of a broader health services partnership, will do even more to serve children in rural Adams and Brown counties.
"We're going to be able to reach out to the community that maybe doesn't have access to this facility. We're taking the care to them," Stoner said.
"This Health Department has always been a leader in finding partnerships and ways to do things with others in our community," Welch said. "This clinic probably is one of the best examples of that happening."
The varied care provided at the clinic seems a perfect fit for Stoner, who has spent a career in the medical field, though not always as a dentist.
She worked in a laboratory at Blessing Hospital for several years, then family, friends and mentors encouraged her to go to dental school. After graduating from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, she joined the military and is in the Air Force Reserve.
"That's taken me all sorts of places, and things I learn there, I can apply here," she said.
Since 2008, Stoner has done an annual dental mission trip to Jamaica through her alma mater, except last year, when she was in Guam, and she met two of the clinic's doctors while doing mission work.
"A lot of our dentists are focused not just here. They're into service, as well," Stoner said.
The future for her and the clinic holds more of the same.
"In five years, hopefully, that mobile clinic has gotten its feet underneath it, will be running itself and the needs of the community would be better served. The dental students here will be ramped up more," she said. "The goal is to get any patient access to care. We can't serve everybody all the time, but hopefully we can maximize our capabilities with personnel, staff and resources and just do the best we can to increase awareness."