Anyone talking with Dr. Damon Pleasant for just a few minutes is bound to get swept up in his enthusiasm for a program he is bringing to Lexington.
Pleasant has signed on as a local representative of Dentistry From the Heart, a non-profit organization that provides free limited dental care throughout the 48 contiguous states and Canada. The organization helps each dentist volunteer his or her time, expertise and resources as host, and works out the bugs so the events run more smoothly.
Pleasant has been recruiting other Central Kentucky dentists, hoping to have 20 to 25 onboard for the free one-day clinic on Oct. 1.
"This is my home," said Pleasant, who has been a dentist in Lexington for 42 years. "I want to give back."
Thousands of people across the nation have lined up hours ahead of time to be seen by a dentist during one of these events. Pleasant expects 100 to 150 during the program's first event in Lexington; similar events have been held in other Kentucky cities.
Dr. Daniel Sheridan of Alexandria, in Northern Kentucky, had his first free Dentistry From the Heart clinic in June. After providing free dentistry in Africa and Eastern Kentucky, Sheridan said he began talking with Dentistry From the Heart about two years ago to give his services locally.
"The economy tanked, and there are still a lot of people who don't have access to dental care," he said. "I went to an event in Ohio and tried to piggy-back and steal ideas from him. We had no clue how many people would show up."
People were in line when the doors opened at 7 a.m., he said. Most of the work involved extractions, fillings and cleanings. Hygienists served about 20 people and he worked with 55.
"We provided between $15,000 and $25,000 worth of dentistry that day," he said. "Everyone was seen by 6:30 p.m. I think God was looking out for me because I don't think I could have seen another patient."
Dentistry From the Heart began in 2001 after Dr. Vincent Monticciolo set up a practice north of Tampa, Fla. To build his practice, Monticciolo would host free, one-day clinics. The concept worked so successfully, he shared how he did it with others.
Brian Carlsen, director of operations for Dentistry From the Heart, said the Florida-based organization now boasts 600 to 650 members in 230 practices nationwide. "We help them do it in a more efficient way," he said. "We get more and more dentists like Dr. Pleasant who enjoy it so well."
Carlsen said the organization manages schedules so dentists living nearby don't host clinics on the same day. It also recruits volunteers and promotes events on a national level.
Although the clinics are free, patients must be 18 or older. Similar events have been held in Bowling Green, Crestwood, Elizabethtown, Flemingsburg, Louisville and Paducah.
In other cities, the clinics are usually held yearly, but Pleasant is waiting until after the October event to finalize plans for a second clinic.
An added benefit of joining Dentistry From the Heart, Carlsen said, is the tax-exempt status the organization provides.
"It costs a lot to do this," he said. "By having a non-profit status, it invites more donations."
Chris Skidmore, executive director of Mission Lexington, which sponsors free medical and dental clinics, said there was a great unmet need for dental care in Lexington.
"We have 650 patients on our waiting list," Skidmore said, adding that The Refuge Mission in Lexington and Nicholasville, and other free or reduced-pay clinics could tell a similar story.
The Dentistry From the Heart clinic "would be fantastic for us," he said. "We stick with our patients until they are fully restored, so it is hard to get newer patients in."
Pleasant said the clinic will be at his dental office, on Custer Drive, in south Lexington. It won't be a full-service clinic, but it will help many in need of care.
Services will be limited to extractions, fillings and cleanings because of the volume of patients expected. If more serious work is needed, patients will be directed to other clinics.
"Most of what we do will be emergency care," Pleasant said. "If you do it and your heart is right, it comes back to you."
Sheridan agreed and had some advice for Pleasant. "Pray before you start," he said, "have a list of places for the patients who need other treatment, and remember that all you can do is your best."