Friday in Tampa: free dental care offers cleaner teeth and healthier bodies

03/24/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: dental care, healthcare, Florida Dental Association, Mission of Mercy


Hillsborough County students receive free dental screenings last year.

photo by Janelle Irwin, 2013

People in the Tampa Bay area can get free dental care this weekend at the Florida State Fairgrounds. This Friday and Saturday adults and some children can get things like teeth cleanings and extractions. Terry Buckenheimer is a Tampa dentist and the president of the Florida Dental Association’s Mission of Mercy.

“And then also, we’re going to provide names, addresses, there’ll be some people from our FQHCs here in Tampa and also they’re affiliated with the Department of Health and they’ll be providing names and addresses of pro-bono care facilities and/or free or reduced fee clinics that people can attend or go to if their treatment needs more work than just in a day.”

Those types of services that couldn’t be completed by one of the more than 300 dentists on hand for the weekend can still be facilitated through Tampa Family Health Centers which is a Federally Qualified Health Center. Some examples of work that may need to be referred to an FQHC as Buckenheimer called it:

“Crowns and bridge work – major restorative work that we can’t do in a day and then some treatments, replacing teeth and things of that sort that would take too much time and too much effort.”

The program started fourteen years ago in Virginia and has since expanded to more than 30 states. Buckenheimer expects a large turnout. That’s in part because he says many dental practices refuse to deal with the state’s Medicaid program, which doesn’t adequately fund dental care for adults.

“What happens in that regard is they can get a tooth pulled, but they can’t get it replaced until they require a full denture where they are completely dentureless or don’t have any teeth.”

Dental services for children on Medicaid are lagging as well. Buckenheimer says the payouts to providers are less than the cost to treat patients leading to a lack of dentists who accept the government subsidized health plans. The effects of that lack of care can be far-reaching.

“Well, if you can’t eat you lose nutrition and shorten your lifespan. Two is, if you have infections that are in your body it affects your overall health and other organs of your body and so if you leave infections in your mouth it will eventually affect your lifespan again.”

And ignoring dental health is especially a problem for patients with heart problems.

“Whenever your teeth are cleaned and there’s bacteria and you bleed in your gums, those bacteria gain entrance into your blood vessels and those blood vessels carry those germs and bacteria all through your body and if you have a defective heart valve or constriction in your heart arteries than those bacteria can accumulate in those areas and cause some problems with your heart.”

Some children may be eligible to get teeth cleanings and basic care, but the free event is catered toward adults. However, for those traveling with children, Buckenheimer says there will be a place where youngsters can wait while their parents are treated.

“It’s just a little area set up for them. It’s nothing real fancy, just a way that we can educate them some more about oral health – show them what good foods are, what ones are bad for their teeth, how they should properly eat or have nutrition that will help them both orally and in their systemic health.”

Several social organizations including the Salvation Army and Metropolitan Ministries may be available for free transportation to the fairgrounds. More information is on the website.

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