Candice King: Support our dental safety net


Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 9:55 p.m.

Your mouth is the gateway to health.

Surprise — I am not referring to what you eat, but to oral health. Few people know that oral health problems are among the most frequent unmet health needs in the nation.

Since a very large portion of oral health care is paid out-of-pocket, it is very sensitive to economic circumstances of communities and families. As a result, many people do without — resulting in emergency room visits due to dental pain, missed school and work, and few options to take care of it.

Although the scale of this problem is huge in our own community as reported by the Alachua County Oral Health Coalition, we are blessed to have an amazing array of local dentists, oral surgeons, dental hygienists and support staff who volunteer their time for people in need.

On Feb. 16, 102 people were treated for free by more than 15 dentists and other oral health care professionals. About 40 people volunteered that day. Hosted by Millhopper Family Dentistry, the “Care to Share” actually started at 8 p.m. the night before when people began to line up to get on the list for Saturday's marathon. Spending the night in chilly temperatures, it was worth the wait.

I talked to one man who arrived at midnight and was No. 63 on the waiting list. He looks for this event every year (now in its fourth year) as his only source of dental services. Thank you to the doctors for their service that day.

There are several organizations in our community that form the basis of a dental safety net. They all operate on a shoestring budget and rely on the support of others to fulfill their mission to provide dental services with reduced fees for those in need.

They include: ACORN Dental Clinic, Gainesville Community Ministry, We Care Network: Project Dentist Care; Eastside Family Medical and Dental Center, Santa Fe College Dental Hygiene Program, the UF College of Dentistry clinics, CHOICES and Santa Fe River Baptist Association Mobile Dental Clinic.

Please take the opportunity to thank the health care professionals who give their time to those in need and consider donating to the safety-net dental community.

Candice King is executive director of the Alachua County Organization for Rural Needs (ACORN) Clinic, a nonprofit organization that provides low-cost medical and dental care to low-income families and qualifying residents living in rural North Central Florida.

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