NEW PORT RICHEY — Dr. Vincent Monticciolo, the dentist who provided free dental care one day each year to hundreds of people camped outside his office, has left his New Port Richey practice.
But not to worry.
The new owners of Grand Dentistry of New Port Richey, at 4530 Grand Blvd., will still host a day of free dental care on Feb. 10. The practice will provide a free filling, cleaning or extraction to the first 200 people, age 18 and up, who show up. Patients may begin arriving at 6 a.m. The dentists will get to work at 7 a.m.
And Monticciolo said his nonprofit foundation, Dentistry from the Heart, will open an office in west Pasco this spring that will provide free dental events once a month.
"We're looking to help as many people as possible," Monticciolo said. "We're looking to give back."
Monticciolo started the free dental events at his New Port Richey office back in 2001. In recent years, the effort provided free care to more than 500 people, with dentists, oral surgeons, dental techs and volunteers all giving their time.
Monticciolo founded Dentistry from the Heart to encourage others to hold similar events. Now the foundation coordinates about 200 events a year in 49 states (except Hawaii), Australia and Canada. Combined, more than 70,000 patients have been helped since the program's inception, said Brian Carlsen, director of operations for Dentistry from the Heart.
Carlsen does marketing and planning, but each dental office donates its own time and supplies. Most of the event coordinating and promoting will happen in the foundation's new office in Port Richey.
Monticciolo sold his New Port Richey practice in 2009 to Heartland Dental Care, an Illinois-based company that handles the administrative and financial side of the business so the dentists can focus on dental care. Monticciolo continued working there until parting ways with Heartland on Dec. 31. He declined to discuss the split.
He's opening a new practice at 8327 W Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa. With 12 dental bays, he said, his new office will be equipped to hold the biggest free dentistry event in the state later this year, perhaps October.
Even with Monticciolo gone, his old New Port Richey practice decided to keep the tradition of a free day of dental care. The event usually fell in February, close to Valentine's Day, so the practice picked Feb. 10.
"Now more than ever, there are people in New Port Richey who need dental services but have no means to afford them — whether they're out of a job, or just don't have dental insurance," Dr. Thanh Mai, of Grand Dentistry of New Port Richey, said in a news release.
And in about three months, the nonprofit Dentistry from the Heart will have its own office ready to provide monthly free dentistry days.
That office, at 8125 U.S. 19 in Port Richey, hasn't been furnished yet, Carlsen said. With four dental chairs and $400,000 of new equipment, the facility will be able to handle hundreds of patients during 10-hour days.
The rest of the time, those chairs will be filled with patients from SmileFaith, another nonprofit dentistry outfit. SmileFaith reconstructs the mouths of patients who have had severe oral trauma from drug addictions, abusive spouses or car wrecks. Those patients are nominated to SmileFaith by members of the community, as part of a program that also provides job and life counseling.
Previously, SmileFaith patients were sent from the old office, at 4613 U.S. 19, to other dentists to have their teeth worked on. But in the new office, the foundation will have dentists provide work on site. The new building will also house offices for coordinating grants and soliciting donations from larger corporations.
In the combined offices, the foundation will be able to use Monticciolo's influence to bring in other dentists, said Tom Lane, SmileFaith's founder.
"When a person gets their smile back and their confidence," Lane said, "the world's unlimited out there."
Carlsen, of Dentistry from the Heart, said he's seen patients walk away from the free dental events sometimes in pain, but full of gratitude. Through gauze-stuffed cheeks they mutter as they leave, "Thank you."