TAMPA — About 2,000 people are expected to get free dental care at a two-day event this week sponsored by the Florida Dental Association.
The state's first Mission of Mercy event will be held Friday and Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds, in the special events pavilion. Services provided by volunteer dentists will include cleanings, fillings and extractions.
The doors open at 5:30 a.m. each day, and patients will be seen first-come, first-served. Organizers are urging participants to come early. No proof of income is required.
Dr. Terry Buckenheimer, a Tampa dentist who serves as president of the Florida Dental Association, had heard about similar events in other states and decided to organize this one at the fairgrounds. Mission of Mercy events started in Virginia in 2000.
He expects a big turnout and said that likely demand is driven by a number of factors, including unemployment and the refusal by many dental practices to deal with the state Medicaid program, which pays nothing for adult dental care and very little for children. Without regular care, he noted, the problems add up fast.
"In dentistry, we've relied on prevention," he said. "However we're lacking in that lately."
Nearly 300 dentists will be on hand at this week's event as well about 1,300 volunteers. The services are primarily aimed at adults, though there will be limited services for children. He said there will be an area where children can wait while their parents are being treated.
The dental association has been advertising the event on billboards and is also working with social service organizations to get the word out. Some faith-based organizations are providing transportation for their clients.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.