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Volunteer Dentists offer Critical Care in Lee Dental Clinic

Photo: U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Creative Commons
A dentist performs a root canal.

A statewide assessment of dental health needs found nearly a third of older adults in Florida aren't getting the early dental care they need. That lack of care is behind an expanded dental clinic in Lee County relying on volunteer health professionals to treat those most in need of dental care. 

The unmet needs for dental health care go beyond an the individual: a 2016 study in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry found Florida emergency rooms treated more than 163,900 dental emergencies in 2014, costing more than $193 million. Both the number of patients and the costs to treat them grew by more than 40 percent in that year alone. The Florida Department of Health says, today, more than one in four Floridians have no dental health care coverage. 

Efforts to stem the "substantial increase" in dental-related ER visits, and provide basic dental health care for those who can't afford it, are motivating the WeCare of Lee County Specialty Healthcare and Dental clinic. A partnership with multiple agencies in Southwest Florida, the expanded clinic opened at a new location in Fort Myers this month at 3033 Winkler Avenue. Organizers say they're relying on volunteer dental health care professionals to serve those who can't afford or otherwise access dental care.

Wednesday at 1 p.m., Daisy Ellis, the director of Health Services at the Salvation Army for Lee, Hendry, and Glades Counties, joins the program to discuss how the clinic is being staffed, what services it offers, and what else it needs to provide dental health care in Southwest Florida.

Also joining the program is Peter, a participant in the Salvation Army's Crossroads rehabilitation program who received his first dental exam in years at the clinic. He said struggles with alcoholism often left him jobless, adding "when times are tough and funds are low, one of the first things to go" became his "visits to the dentist."

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.
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