Years ago, when I was a single parent to a pre-schooler, broke and yet gainfully employed, I had a severe toothache that demanded attention. I went to a dentist, who suggested I have a root canal to save the tooth.
I don't recall the cost, but the image I have is of me using that same amount of money for a down payment on a used car. The alternative was a tooth extraction for $25, which would put a serious dent in my wallet but would relieve the pain. I chose that.
There are a large number of adults still sacrificing their own dental health for that of their children. The number grew significantly during the recent economic downturn, when many of those parents didn't have a wallet for dental costs to dent.
Even though the economy is improving, dental care remains a luxury item for some.
Dr. Damon Pleasant, owner of the Lexington Dental Center, knows that. That's why he joined Dentistry from the Heart, a non-profit organization of volunteer dental practices throughout the United States and other countries, including Ireland, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Australia.
Those practices open their doors at least once a year to serve adults who can't afford dental insurance. This year, DFTH will help more than 12,000 patients and provide millions in dental care.
For the third consecutive year, Pleasant is offering his services and those of at least six oral surgeons and other dental professionals free to anyone 18 or older who visits his offices from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Most of those oral surgeons are with the Kentucky Center for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Lexington.
By his calculations, there should be 80 to 90 volunteers on hand Saturday just to serve those in need of dental care. Several dental students have volunteered. They can't practice but they can assist, he said.
Because of the limited time available, not all dental problems can be addressed, however. Services will be limited to extractions, fillings and cleanings because of the volume of patients expected.
Last year, 110 people received 300 teeth extractions, 59 fillings, 30 cleanings, 100 panoramic X-rays and 124 examinations. Those services would have cost more than $97,000.
In 2011, 150 patients received $100,000 worth of dental services.
There is usually a long waiting list at free dental clinics in Lexington, so the one-day event is attractive.
"People usually start lining up Thursday afternoon," Pleasant said.
Doors open promptly at 7 a.m., and help is provided until the last station is finished, he said. Last year, that was about 8:30 p.m.
"When you start treating someone, the clock is not that big a factor," he said.
Dentistry from the Heart began in Florida in 2001, when Dr. Vincent Monticciolo provided dental services to adults in need. Now there are 200 annual daylong events nationwide that offer free dental care.
In August, Pearson Justice Dental became the second Lexington dental practice to host a DFTH event. More than $24,000 in services was provided to 138 patients that day. Obviously there is need here.
"The Kentucky Center for Oral Surgery has been a tremendous part of this," Pleasant said. "They deserve all kinds of credit. They work really hard all through the day, and oral surgery is not cheap."
The volunteers help alleviate the pain that many patients endure, and they offer advice on how to stay out of trouble, he said.
"Everyone I have ever worked with has said, 'I have a good feeling about what we are doing,'" Pleasant said. "It is the most rewarding thing I've ever done. And everyone says that."
Gauging from the number of calls I receive in a month inquiring about free dental care, I would suggest you get there early.
IF YOU GO
What: Lexington Dental Center's third annual Dentistry from the Heart event.
When: 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sept. 21. Must be 18 or older.
Where: Lexington Dental Center, 3138 Custer Drive, Suite 200.
Information: Call 859-273-4141.