Geting to Know Us: Keri Kilgore, PHDHP

Keri Kilgore and Geno Henderson

In 2006, Keri Kilgore was looking for a position as a dental hygienist.  She saw an ad for a position at Chester County Community Dental Services in Coatesville.  In 2014, Community Dental merged with ChesPenn and we acquired a passionate, gifted Public Health Dental Hygiene Practitioner.

Keri found that providing dental care in a community health setting was profoundly different from working in private practice.  In her words, “It was a culture shock.  It took me about three months So many patients have never seen a dentist and come in with severe dental disease.  Many patients have physical or mental disabilities.  “I couldn’t believe the conditions that patients were coming in with – so many problems all at once and in pain and just needing almost a reconstruction.  We would have to start with a palliative approach and transition them to restorative care.  “It’s really satisfying if they’re willing to take the time to let us help them.  When they come through the other side it’s amazing because their confidence is higher their health is better.”

The challenges are often great, but the rewards are even greater.  Geno Henderson is a perfect example.  Geno has been seeing Keri since 2007.  He is a veteran who receives his medical care at the Coatesville Veteran’s Association Hospital.  However, the local VA does not have a dental practice so to receive dental care through his VA benefits, Geno would have to travel to Philadelphia.  That’s inconvenient for any Coatesville resident, but Geno is confined to a wheelchair, making the trip even more difficult.  Like many veterans living in our community, Geno comes to ChesPenn for his dental care and uses our sliding fee discount.

When Geno first came to us, he was able with help to get out of his wheelchair and into the dental chair, but it could take as much as 15 minutes to make the transfer.  Over the years, his disability has progressed and now Keri provides his cleanings directly in his wheelchair.  That requires her to stand and also requires some creativity in taking his x-rays.  But it’s more important than ever because Geno can no longer brush and floss thoroughly as he once did.  He comes for cleanings now every 3 months to compensate.  Geno and Keri have developed a warm relationship over the years and he trusts her to care for him and to make his visits comfortable.  During a recent visit, he told us, “Everyone here is wonderful.  Keri takes great care of me!”

Many of Keri’s patients have severe anxiety during their first visit.  They’re worried that their care will hurt and that they might be judged for not taking better care of their teeth and gums.  Keri’s approach is to praise them for having the courage to come.  She also tells them, “This is going to be the hardest visit.  We’ll get through it together and after that it will be easy.”

Over the years, we have been happy to see more families bringing their children in when they’re very young.  Often the youngest in a family will watch as an older sibling has an exam and cleaning and realize that there is nothing to be afraid of.  We use dental puppets to teach and entertain young children and they get a prize as they leave.  They learn to look forward to their visit instead of being afraid.  One patient who came in for his first visit at 3, later brought Keri a plush Minion for Christmas.

The dental visit can be much more than about comfort and appearance – it can be lifesaving.  Keri has identified cancerous lesions and other critical health issues.  One patient’s x-rays showed an extraordinary loss of bone in her lower jaw.  The woman was only 19, yet her jaw was so fragile that it could easily have shattered.  Keri referred the patient to an oral surgeon and later learned that she had been diagnosed with an ameloblastoma, a rare benign tumor that can completely destroy the jaw.  The patient has since had reconstructive surgery.

Keri’s story demonstrates the critical importance of dental care in public health and the value of offering medical and dental services under one roof.  This kind of quality, integrated care delivered by people who are passionate about their work is a hallmark of community health centers.


Center for Family Health at Eastside
125 E. 9th Street
Chester PA, 19013
Medical Phone: 610-872-6131
Dental Phone: 610-874-6231

Center for Family Health at Coatesville
744 East Lincoln Highway
Suite 110
Coatesville, PA 19320
Medical Phone: 610-380-4660
Dental Phone: 610-383-3888

Center for Family Health at Upper Darby
5 South State Road
Upper Darby, PA 19082
Phone: 610-352-6585


1510 Chester Pike,
Suite 200
Eddystone, PA 19022

Phone: 610-485-3800
Fax: 610-485-4221

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