SPRING HILL — Austin Stanley takes in a deep breath.
The drill Dr. Bradley Jergins used on one of his teeth Saturday morning has been put to rest. Now the 9-year-old has only a few more moments to lie back in the chair with his mouth wide open.
Once the filling is dry, he'll be able to go home — with a slightly numb mouth.
"Do you feel like you need some water?" Jergins asks.
Austin nods his blond head.
On the other side of the Nature Coast Community Health Center's Spring Hill office, pediatric dentist Dana Busciglio sings the words to a Hannah Montana song as she leans over Jasmine Mobley, also 9.
The Brooksville resident giggles as best she can as the dentist takes care of her cavities, too.
The children were some of the first county residents to receive free dental services through the Give Kids A Smile program. Started in 2003 by the American Dental Association, the state program is sponsored by a division of the Florida Dental Association and DenTek.
Jergins and Busciglio volunteered their time, as did dental hygienists and fellow Hernando dentist Bryan Marshall, to provide care Saturday to 20 children referred through the county school system and Health Department.
"For the county, access to care is a huge focus," Jergins said. "And though we are providing services to children today, we still worry about the thousands of children who aren't getting what they need, and are having trouble eating, sleeping and paying attention in class."
The cost of dental services often keeps families from receiving the proper dental care, Jergins said. He hopes Saturday's event will show that dentists want to be part of the solution while spurring more public and private partnership in the county.
Although the Health Department offers dental services on a sliding fee scale based on income, it is often overwhelmed with the number of people who need cavities filled or, in the worst cases, teeth pulled, said Teresa Keenan, Hernando's dental program supervisor.
"We get hundreds of calls from people who need dental care, and we're always busy," Keenan said. "There's a great need for dental services in Hernando County."
The county has been designated a health professional shortage area for dental care by the federal government. According to the 2006 Health Needs Assessment, more than 24 percent of county residents said that they needed dental care in the past year but couldn't afford it.
And with a growing number of residents who don't have medical insurance, reported at just above 17 percent in the assessment, there are even more who don't have dental insurance, Keenan said.
"We see a lot of cavities by the time people get to us," Keenan said. "But mostly, especially with adults, we're beyond the point of doing fillings and other preventative procedures. A lot of time, we have to extract teeth."
For Lori Snyder, Austin's mother, not having access to dental care has been a big frustration. The Weeki Wachee family was turned down for Medicaid and other programs that could have helped pay for expensive procedures.
She recently had to shell out more than $1,000 for a root canal her son had to have.
"Medicaid and those other programs say I make too much money," Snyder said Saturday as Keenan briefed her on the work her son had received. He had two cavities filled, and has a third that needs attention in the future.
"So when they called me to say that they could help, I said yes," Snyder said. "This was perfect for me."
Jergins and Keenan hope to have more free county dental clinics in the future. But more community support is needed.
"We really appreciate everyone who volunteered their time," Keenan said. "It's great that this is finally happening here in Hernando when it's been in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties before. There are a lot of people who could benefit."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at [email protected]
or (352) 848-1432.