Doctors, hygienists and staff at Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry took care of patients on Friday, just like any other—except all cleanings, fillings and extractions were free of cost.
Just one of the 24 offices from across the country participating throughout this month, Free Dentistry Day is a chance for practices to help those in need of dental services.
“We try to give back to the community,” said Dr. Gilbert Carney of Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry. “Our office has always tried to help out where we can.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the state meets only 39 percent of the dental care need, a 5,000-to-1 population-to-dentist ratio. This workforce distribution disparity, they say, contributes to the access care crisis in the state. In addition, only about one-third of U.S. dentists accept public insurance and in 2016, about 2.8 million Pennsylvanians were enrolled in Medicaid.
Many of the people visiting Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry on Friday lacked insurance.
“In Cumberland Valley, there is a disparity and a need,” Dr. Eric Solberg said. “We can’t address it all, but we can help some.”
Solberg also explained the importance of oral health to overall health, saying these free dentistry days can be life changing for people.
The Mayo Clinic supports Solberg’s claim, noting that emerging research has linked poor oral health to conditions like cardiovascular disease, endocarditis, birth complications and pneumonia. Oral disease, the PA Department of Health says, could be prevented through routine check-ups with a dentist.
Regular check-ups are something Brooks Bello is used to going into Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry for. But, just recently, her insurance stopped covering dental work, so her dentist suggested she come to the free day to avoid paying out of pocket.
Solberg explained that money for the free day comes completely out of the practice’s funds. In the previous three years of participating, they’ve donated an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 in supplies and voluntary work.
“We get as much physical work done as we can,” Solberg said.
Returning free day customer Michael Ruggles appreciates this, as he doesn’t have the insurance or funds to receive regular dental work.
“I miss that […] having dental cleanings,” Ruggles said.
Oral disease can often be treated and managed before severe complications develop, reported the PA Department of Health, however without the means to get check-ups, many people find themselves in the ER with high cost treatment.
For patients like Dwayne Smith, free dental day is his chance to get care he wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive. Without dental insurance, getting oral health care is too expensive.
“Dentistry is vital to overall health issues,” Smith said. “It’s one of the most vital things out there, but also one of the most expensive.”
Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry is located at 4824 E Trindle Rd, Mechanicsburg. More information can be found at https://www.mechanicsburgfamilydentistry.com/. To learn more about Free Dentistry Day, visit https://www.freedentistryday.org/.