TAMPA — Thousands of people hoping to get cavities filled or teeth pulled are expected to attend Florida’s first Mission of Mercy event today and Saturday.
Up to 2,000 patients could receive free dental care at the event organized by the Florida Dental Association. Patients and a volunteer dentist will determine three oral health problems and have at least one treated, said Leo Cullinan, a Naples orthodontist and co-chairman of the event being held at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
“We’re trying to get patients out of trouble; trying to get them out of pain,” he said.
Each person will pass through a medical triage area — a physician must clear them for treatment — and receive a panoramic X-ray, Cullinan said. After the X-ray, they will meet with one of 350 volunteer dentists and decide whether they need a cleaning, filling or other procedure.
The 2,000-member Florida Dental Association has planned the event for about a year, Cullinan said. The first Mission of Mercy was held in Virginia in 2000 and sparked other events across the country.
Many dentists do pro-bono work out of their private offices, Cullinan said, but these large-scale gatherings allow them to see more patients.
The need for dental care is overwhelming, Cullinan said, and many people can’t receive or pay for treatment at a private dental office.
“We felt like it was important to raise the awareness of this issue and share this experience with the communities that are supporting us,” he said.
The clinic will be open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, but organizers expect to reach the daily quota of 800 patients by 10 a.m. Patients will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.
In addition to the general-care dentists and specialists, there will be about 1,100 dental hygienists and volunteers from throughout Florida to assist doctors and patients, Cullinan said.
The Florida Dental Association hopes to organize future events in other cities in the state.
“It’s really more than just fixing teeth,” he said. “We’re really trying to have an impact on these people’s lives.”