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Cesar Sabates: Funding Donated Dental Services will help Florida’s most vulnerable get life-saving care

These are individuals who fall within the cracks of the healthcare system.

“The mouth is the window into the health of the body” is a well-known phrase in the healthcare community.

As a dentist who has practiced for 30 years, I know that this statement is true.

I’ve treated patients who could not undergo transplants until the infections in their mouths were treated, and I’ve treated patients who couldn’t eat or sleep properly because of the pain of gum infection and decayed teeth, which can be associated with medical conditions such as diabetes.

Many of them are patients I’ve served through the Florida Donated Dental Services program, which is supported by the Florida Dental Association (FDA) and the FDA Foundation.

These are individuals who fall within the cracks of the healthcare system. They don’t qualify for Medicaid, or it doesn’t cover the services they need and the patients don’t have the means to get treatment.

Through the Florida Donated Dental Services program, volunteer dentists and dental laboratories across the state donate comprehensive treatment to patients, specifically people with disabilities or who are elderly or medically fragile. This is not a one-time dental visit, and treatment is not limited to certain types of services. Through the ongoing, expert care of volunteer dentists and the materials provided by dental labs, such as dentures and crowns, patients find dental homes and have their oral health and smiles restored. Last year, each patient received on average, more than $5,500 in care.

There is a significant need for this program in the state. Even with a volunteer network of more than 500 dentists and 220 dental laboratories, 580 applicants are on the waiting list for this program.

Florida has an opportunity to eliminate the wait and help more people get life-saving care.

Last year, state lawmakers adopted the Florida Donated Dental Services program into state statute, but without funding.

Providing state funding annually to this program would support two full-time coordinators, which would nearly eliminate the waiting list in one year and help expand the program statewide.

Florida Donated Dental Services began in Miami in 1997 as a group of local volunteers, who each committed to take on one patient for a year. Since then, it has grown to hundreds of volunteers who have provided almost 2,000 patients with more than $9 million in comprehensive care.

We can and must continue to grow this program.

Recently, I saw a patient whom I began treating 10 years ago through Florida Donated Dental Services. She has developmental disabilities, and when she originally came to see me, I couldn’t even see her teeth because the infections caused an overgrowth of gum tissue that was coming over the tops of her teeth. During her treatment, I had to extract several teeth and put in implants and a prosthesis to reconstruct her teeth, her bite and the functionality of her mouth.

Her needs were extensive. The impact of this care on her health, her happiness and her quality of life is immeasurable. There is nothing more rewarding than providing patients with care that is truly life-altering and life-saving.

Florida is home to thousands of dentists who have the same passion to serve, make a difference in people’s lives and help our communities thrive.

Funding the Florida Donated Dental Services program will help our state’s most vulnerable patients get the care they need now. I urge lawmakers in Tallahassee to continue the great work they started last Session by supporting funding for Florida Donated Dental Services.

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Dr. Cesar Sabates is president of Florida Donated Dental Services, a past president of the Florida Dental Association, a Trustee of the American Dental Association and a practicing dentist in Coral Gables.

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