Merlene Davis: Two free dental clinics welcome volunteers and patients

Central Kentucky adults will have two one-day opportunities to receive minor dental care free of charge.

Free of charge!

The dental services will be available on Saturday and Sept. 20 at Pearson Justice Dental and the Lexington Dental Center, respectively. Both offices are affiliated with Dentistry from the Heart, a non-profit that provides dental care through individual dentists and other volunteers.

This will be the second year Pearson Justice has helped with the program. It served 150 patients last year with the help of about 50 dentists, as well as dental assistance, hygienists and friends and family volunteers, said Lauren Jansen, marketing director.

Those patients received extractions, fillings and cleanings. Jansen said they hope to see even more patients this year.

"We are just hoping to help as many people as we can," she said.

At last year's event, Jansen said, volunteers handed out flyers advertising the dental center's event, which was scheduled a month later.

"It provides two opportunities for people to receive service," she said. "We can only treat one tooth, but the patient may have two or three that are hurting."

Dr. Damon Pleasant, owner of the dental center, said this will be his fourth annual event, which gets larger each year. With the help of 14 dentists and 42 other volunteers, the center served 129 patients last year. There were 429 extractions, 120 fillings, 30 cleanings, 116 panoramic X-rays and 129 examinations, which were equivalent to more than $116,000 in free care.

Unfortunately, Pleasant said, with only two or three hours left in the event, there were only a couple of dentists still available. And there were still dozens of people waiting for care.

He is asking for more dentists, nurses, surgical assistants, hygienists and people who can serve as runners or helpers to volunteer this year.

"We need the lay people to help register the patients," he said. "And we need anyone in the medical profession to pitch in."

Patients must be 18 or older and are given a choice of a cleaning, filling or extraction. Service is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Many patients arrive early for the dental care and some form lines the night before.

For Lexington to have two free events is truly a gift for those who can't afford dental insurance. Poor oral health can be a factor in other health problems including heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis and premature or low birth rates, according to findings by the Mayo Clinic.

According to the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition's website, in 2012, Kentucky had the fifth highest rate of "toothlessness" in the United States for adults 65 and older.

The Pew Center on the States gave Kentucky a D for overall oral health prevention.

Some reasons for our dismal showing, according to the coalition's website, is a lack of transportation, office hours, cost and geography.

These two dental offices have eliminated most of those reasons.

If you can volunteer to help, let both offices know what hours you will be available.

If you don't need dental services, contact friends and family members who might.

This is too good of an opportunity to serve or be served to pass up.