TOWN 'N' COUNTRY
A multitude of strangers with throbbing jaws likely will be waiting when Dr. Vincent J. Monticciolo opens the door to his dental office at 7 a.m. today.
Monticciolo, 11 other dentists, an oral surgeon, several hygienists and two dozen assistants plan to pull bad teeth, fill cavities or provide cleanings at no charge to 300 people who register on a first-come, first-served basis at his office on W Hillsborough Avenue.
It's one of more than 200 free dentistry days that go on during the year in the United States and two other countries because of Dentistry from the Heart, a charity Monticciolo started 12 years ago.
"We get lots of hugs. We get lots of tears. People bring baked goods. It's just a feel-good day,'' said Monticciolo, 47. "It's the most gratifying day that we do.''
Brian Carlsen, who runs the charity from nearby offices, said most who line up for the free service are people who work.
"They all want to talk and explain themselves: 'I've got a job. I make good money. But I put it toward my children, their education, their health care. I've been neglecting myself, ' is what I hear a lot of people saying.''
Many, likely, are working poor, but no one is screened for income.
"If you pull up in a Mercedes, and someone opens the door for you, and get in line with bodyguards — maybe you're Bruce Willis — we would still service you,'' Carlsen said.
The doctor, owner of Monticciolo Family and Sedation Dentistry, started "a day of thanks'' when he was practicing in his home state of Michigan. It was held on Thanksgiving Day, but he changed it to around Valentine's Day when he moved to New Port Richey and then to Tampa, explaining that he takes Thanksgiving off now to go back and visit family.
"If we can fix their front teeth and make them be able to smile, and not only feel good but go out and get a job, that's a good thing. If we can get them out of pain, take some infection out of their mouth that makes them healthier,'' he said, "that's a good thing.''
Word has spread. People hear about it from friends or relatives who were treated at past events.
"What we see is a lot of people who have been hurting for a long time. We had a guy who rode his bike all the way from St. Petersburg to be there. We have people that have heard about it, and they come from Ocala,'' he said. "It makes you almost shed a tear sometimes when you see what you see there.''
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Many of the patients start arriving after midnight; some even arrive when the office closes the day before, Carlsen said, adding that the charity has security guards on site through the night and provides snacks and breakfast so those waiting can keep their strength up.
Monticciolo said every dentist he knows does some charity work. Dentistry from the Heart makes it easier for them to help a lot of people in one day. The charity handles all the logistics for dentists who want to host an event, including promotional T-shirts, publicity, and a three-months-out checklist of steps to take, he said.
"We give them everything they need. All they need is the office, the dentist and the day.''
So far, the charity has provided $11 million worth of free dental care to between 70,000 and 80,000 people, he said. Dentists in Canada and Australia are hosting Dentistry from the Heart events, and more countries are showing interest, he said.
Dentists taking part have found that the publicity about free dental days helps boost their practices, bringing in more year-round paying clients, Carlsen said.
Monticciolo said it's always a festive day. Those waiting for treatment can get free massages, and free hot dogs and pizzas will be offered. Portable toilets will be available.
The office shuts down at lunch and a chef from an area restaurant puts on a feast for the care providers.
When the day is over, Monticciolo takes the other doctors and their spouses out for a thank-you dinner. By that time, he said, he could nod off at the table after just one glass of wine.
"My wife drives home, because I'm just beat.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.