One dentist described the teeth he was seeing Friday at Manatee Technical College’s free dental clinic in blunt terms: “Rampant decay,” said Rob Hynton, a Bradenton dentist who volunteers at the school’s free clinics, offered four times a year.
Hynton along with three other dentists and the dental-assistant students at MTC dedicated their morning toward providing free checkups, cleanings, X-rays, sealings and treatment plans for some of the poorest children in the Manatee County School District.
And Hynton said those children, many with limited knowledge of dental care and a sugar-heavy diet, were in dire need of the free services
“You are going to see blasted out teeth. Teeth that are completely and totally decayed,” Hynton said. “The first kid I saw today had three cavities. There will be a kid in here who will have eight or 10.”
Friday’s clinic served 44 children, according to Cheryl Stuart, a school nurse with Manatee schools who helped organize the event. Stuart said district school nurses review medical forms and talk to children in schools to see who is in need of a dentist. She said lower-income families, because of the cost of dental care, often only went to the dentist in the case of an emergency.
Among the 44 children treated Friday, was Bonafacio Chavez, 12, who sat in the waiting room with his father, also named Bonafacio Chavez. The elder Chavez had taken the day off work as a tomato picker to bring young Bonafacio in for the appointment. He said he did not want to miss the time at work, but it was important to get his son to the dentist.
Tara Braun waited with her son, William, age 9.
“He doesn’t have a regular dentist, so I’d have to find a dentist and pay it out of my pocket because he doesn’t have dental insurance,” said Braun.
Manav Malik, president of Florida Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, said programs like the free clinic at Manatee Technical College are vital for low-income families to get dental care.
“Access to care is a definite struggle,” said Malik, who goes by the nickname Dr. M&M. “These type of events help bridge that gap and help provide access.”
And Hynton said very few dentists run Medicaid practices because government reimbursement only covers a fraction of the cost, so for many poor families, a free clinic is the only affordable option.
“(Running a Medicaid practice) is an impossible thing to do,” Hynton said. “You can have all the desire in the world, you can be the nicest guy in the world, and you can’t keep your doors open.”
The event also provides on-the-job training for MTC’s dental assistant students.
“The job itself is very hands on, and everybody learns in their own way. Some people will learn via textbook, by teaching others, and some people learn hands on, and that’s what I’m getting to do today,” said Jennifer Schmitz, 31, a dental assistant student at MTC.
Dentists did not fill cavities at the clinic, and instead focused on cleaning and diagnosing. Hynton said the next step for organizers was farming out all of the children to different dentists who could provide further care.
Stuart said families interested in attending the school’s next free clinic should call Manatee County Health Services Secretary Susan Muldoon at 941-751-6550, ext. 2285.