Personality: Dr. Audra Yuki-Wright Jones

Spotlight on board president of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation

3/10/2022, 6 p.m.
Dr. Audra Yuki-Wright Jones is helping put a bright smile on the faces of Virginians.

Dr. Audra Yuki-Wright Jones is helping put a bright smile on the faces of Virginians.

As president of the board of directors of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, Dr. Jones is leading efforts to offer free dental programs to low-income, underserved and uninsured children and adults across the Commonwealth.

She wants to re-establish their continuity of the foundation’s service after the upheaval of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 severely impacted the VDAF’s ability to fulfill its mission but it did not change the number of people who need assistance,” Dr. Jones says. “My No. 1 goal is to navigate the challenges posed in a COVID-19 world and find innovative ways to provide services at our pre-pandemic level.”

More than 6,500 people were helped annually by the programs offered through the foundation, the charitable and outreach arm of the Virginia Dental Association. The foundation was started 26 years ago to help people without financial resources or dental insurance access comprehensive dental care and preventive services.

The foundation does this through three key programs – the Mission of Mercy program that operates free mobile dental clinics across Virginia; the Donated Dental Services program that helps eligible seniors and adults with disabilities; and the Give Kids a Smile program that provides free oral health care to children.

Through the Mission of Mercy program alone, more than 69,000 patients have received care valued at more than $48.3 million since the program’s launch in 2000, Dr. Jones says. Thousands of volunteers — dentists and others — have helped make all three programs successful and a model for other states.

As president of the foundation’s board, Dr. Jones wants to increase public awareness about the programs.

“I also want to inspire opportunities for involvement and serving patients throughout the Commonwealth,” she says.

Dr. Jones credits her father-in-law, Dr. John W. Jones, with opening her to dentistry as a possible career. She shadowed him during her senior year in college.

“I loved seeing the relationships he had with his patients and the difference he made by treating their needs and boosting their self-confidence,” she says.

She earned her degree in dentistry from Howard University College of Dentistry and is a general dentist. She volunteered with the VDAF’s Mission of Mercy program in 2012 after moving to Virginia and helped with the creation of free mobile dental clinics for the community. She formally joined the VDAF board of directors in 2014 and was elected to the board’s top position in January for a two-year term.

“I am passionate about dentistry’s ability to improve people’s health and self-esteem,” Dr. Jones says. “It’s important to me to give back to the community.”

Meet a passionate leader in making dental care accessible to the people and this week’s Personality, Dr. Audra Yuki- Wright Jones:

No. 1 volunteer position: President of the Board of Directors, Virginia Dental Association Foundation.

Occupation: General dentist.

Date and place of birth: July 7 in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Where I live now: Mechanicsville.

Education: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria; James Madison University; and Howard University College of Dentistry.

Family: Husband, Vaughan Jones, and two boys, Casey, 15, and Liam, 12.

Virginia Dental Association Foundation is: A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that serves as the charitable and outreach arm of the Virginia Dental Association. We garner the resources of dental professionals and the community at large to offer programs that serve more than 6,500 people annually. The VDAF’s mission is accomplished by three nationally recognized programs: Mission of Mercy, Donated Dental Services and Give Kids a Smile.

VDAF mission: To provide access to dental care to underserved Virginians.

When and why VDAF was founded: The VDAF was founded in 1996 because thousands of people across Virginia experience chronic pain resulting from oral disease simply because they lack basic resources such as dental insurance or personal finances to access comprehensive dental care and preventive services.

Who VDAF serves: The VDAF serves low-income, underserved and uninsured Virginians, including children and those who are elderly or disabled. All services are provided free of charge.

Why I accepted the position: I am passionate about dentistry’s ability to improve people’s health and self-esteem.

No. 1 goal as board president: To navigate the challenges posed in a COVID-19 world and find innovative ways to provide services at our pre-pandemic level.

Strategy for achieving goal: The VDAF will continue to work with existing partners in planning future projects and programs. We are seeking new partners, obtaining grants and acquiring sponsorships. We also are reaching out to communities to assess their needs and how we can be of assistance.

Why dentistry is vital care: Dentistry maintains the qual- ity of your smile as well as your overall well-being. It is important to physical and mental health.

Mission of Mercy is: Launched in 2000 by Dr. Terry Dickenson, retired executive director of the Virginia Dental Association, the MOM program operates multiple free mobile dental clinics annually across Virginia. Since its inception, more than 69,000 patients have received care valued at more than $48.3 million. Thirty-one other states have now implemented projects based on the model first created in Virginia, and the Virginia Health Care Foundation has included the Mission of Mercy program in its “Models that Made It” series, producing a detailed guidebook as a reference for other communities seeking to host a project.

Donated Dental Services is: Donated Dental Services was started in 1997 and provides comprehensive dental care to eligible seniors and adults with disabilities. More than 600 volunteer dentists, as well as specialists and laboratories, tend to the essential and comprehensive dental care needs of some of Virginia’s most vulnerable groups — individuals who are disabled, elderly or medically-compromised and unable to afford services or access public aid.

Give Kids a Smile is: Give Kids a Smile is an initiative proposed by the American Dental Association. It is a National Children’s Dental Access Day designed to raise awareness and provide free oral health care to as many children as possible. Efforts range from community outreach and education programs in schools to donated full-mouth restorations for children requiring extensive care. In 2021, 1,013 children in Virginia benefited from free dental services through the program.

How local dentists can pitch in: There are many ways! Dentists can volunteer to be a DDS dentist, participate in Mission of Mercy and Give Kids a Smile or make a financial contribution to the VDAF.

Tips for patients fearful of seeing a dentist: If you’re nervous about dental visits, there are things that can put you at ease. Schedule a consult to meet with the dentist. You and the dentist can discuss potential treatment plans and ways the dentist can allay your fear and anxiety.

Tips for students interested in dentistry: I’d advise any student interested in dentistry to start by reaching out to their dentist and asking for shadowing opportunities. Next, contact prospective dental schools to learn which college classes are prerequisites for admission. Finally, volunteer with dental projects like Mission of Mercy or Give Kids a Smile.

A perfect day for me is: Spending time with my family hiking in a new environment.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Fight. I love combat sports. I’m a 2nd-degree black belt. I train at a kickboxing gym or karate dojang five days a week.

Quote that inspires me: “Happiness is developed through appreciation of what you have.” Friends describe me as: Loyal and adventurous.

At the top of my “to-do” list: My bucket list travel adventure is an eight-day Alaskan hike from Kenai to Denali.

Best late-night snack: Popcorn.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: Always believe in myself.

Person who influenced me the most: My father is my greatest influence and role model. He is a war veteran. He maintains a calm confident demeaner though any storm. He’s my biggest supporter.

Book that influenced me the most: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle.

What I’m reading now: “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Next goal: Navigate painlessly — or as close to it as possible — my sons’ teenage years!