Merlene Davis: Free help will be offered at Dentistry From the Heart event

Dr. Damon Pleasant spoke with a patient at last year's Dentistry from the Heart event.
Dr. Damon Pleasant spoke with a patient at last year's Dentistry from the Heart event.

Dr. Jeff Bailey has been volunteering on medical mission trips for 10 years. In fact, he was providing dental services in Belize when his office in West Liberty was destroyed in March by tornadoes that destroyed much of that area and other towns in the region.

"I was stunned," he said after seeing the destruction. "The damage was exponentially worse than I imagined."

And yet, while he waits for his office to be rebuilt, Bailey is still looking for ways he can offer his services to people in need.

He didn't have to look very far.

Bailey will be volunteering Saturday at Lexington's second Dentistry From the Heart event which, for one day only, provides free dental care to patients 18 years old and older. The event is hosted by Dr. Damon Pleasant, who has been a dentist in Lexington for 43 years.

Dentistry From the Heart is a non-profit organization that provides free limited dental care in the 48 contiguous states and Canada. The organization helps each dentist volunteer his or her time, expertise and resources, and works out the bugs so the event runs smoothly.

"There are a lot of people out there with needs," Pleasant said. "We are proud to do this."

Last year, Pleasant said, 150 patients received care. They began lining up Friday afternoon for the Saturday clinic. Services provided included 291 extractions, 123 fillings, 36 cleanings, 141 panoramic x-rays and 141 examinations worth nearly $100,000.

Dental health can be a window to your overall health. Research is showing that if your oral health is poor, it may be an indicator of other health issues.

For example, the Academy of General Dentistry says there is a relationship between gum disease and complications such as stroke and heart disease. Also, pregnant women with gum disease show a higher incidence of low birth-weight babies.

"We try to educate the people," Pleasant said. "We talk to them so they will learn dental health."

Unfortunately, financially strapped adults have few avenues available for accessing dental care. The free one-day clinic is designed to help a few people in that category.

Pleasant, who is expecting a larger number of patients this year, said about 250 people volunteered at the first clinic. Registered nurses were on hand as were lay people who registered, briefed and organized the patients.

And, he said, restaurants donated food for the volunteers as well as the patients waiting in line.

Dentists who volunteered included many from Lexington and Eastern Kentucky, and one from Indiana. This year, Bailey will be one of those dentists.

And he's planning to provide more help, too. He's working out the logistics for a two-week mission aboard the Mercy Ships, which provide medical treatment to several countries along the eastern coast of Africa.

"I really love being around the type of people that give of themselves and their skills," he said.

At Saturday's free clinic, he said, "literally thousands of people, both receiving and providing, will be blessed."

Pleasant said that's why members of the dental profession will be volunteering for a long day of work.

"The dental profession is trying to do its best to give something of their skills to the public," Pleasant said. "All the guys who worked last year were happy to do that.

"As long as I am in practice, I intend once a year to do this."

All volunteers are welcome.