Nearly 3,000 needy people received $2.7 million worth of free dental care this weekend in Jacksonville.
This year’s event drew 2,400 volunteers, according to a press release, including almost 600 dentists and nearly 300 dental hygienists.
Dentist and state Rep. Fred Costello, a Port Orange Republican, treated patients. And state Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, and state Rep. Mia Jones, a Jacksonville Democrat, were “patient ambassadors.”
The event came less than two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a state-funded dental care program for the poor. Scott said he could not “support a program that does not place appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments.”
“Patients traveled from as far as Miami and waited in line overnight to receive free dental treatment, and the high volume of patients highlights the critical need to improve access to dental care in Florida,” the release said.
The FDA backed the bill (HB 139), passed unanimously by both chambers of the Legislature this past session, that would have created a special grants program.
It was designed to serve patients in counties with a shortage of dentists or in otherwise “medically underserved areas.”
“Too many Floridians face barriers to accessing routine dental care,” said Dr. David Russell, president of the FDA Foundation. The weekend event, begun in 2014 and held in a different city each year, “help(s) relieve pain and restore smiles.”
At the same time, Russell added, “volunteerism alone won’t solve the problem because a charity care system is not a health care system.”
Scott, in his veto letter, disagreed, saying this year’s bill was “duplicative of existing programs.”
“Pediatric and adult dental benefits are provided for Medicaid recipients through the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Program and pediatric dental services are available through Florida KidCare,” Scott said.
“Furthermore, the large majority of County Health Departments and Community Health Centers provide Florida families in rural communities access to dental services.”
A lack of routine dental care results “in repeated visits to the emergency room for preventable dental problems, missed days of school due to toothaches, and lower GPAs and graduation rates,” the FDA has said.
Jim Rosica (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee.