Dr. Vincent Monticciolo is knocking down Pasco County's unhealthy statistics one tooth at a time. The state Department of Health estimates more than 23 percent of Pasco County's adults failed to visit a dentist over the past year because they couldn't afford it. That's roughly 80,000 people who, at the very least, could use a thorough cleaning and are more likely at risk for gum disease, tooth decay or other oral hygiene concerns.
Only 15 Florida counties, none in the Tampa Bay area, showed a higher percentage of dental neglect, according to the 2007 data. Considering the area's population density, income levels and age, it is a reasonable to conclude that west Pasco is home to more of those people than any other portion of the county.
Enter Monticciolo, who, since 2001, has been offering a day of free dental care. Today, Monticciolo and a team of other dental professionals at his Grand Boulevard practice will see 500 patients, free of charge, as part of the annual Dentistry from the Heart program. Patients can receive either a cleaning, filling or extraction.
Monticciolo founded the now-national program in 2001 and he traditionally picks a Friday preceding Valentine's Day for his effort. This year dentists in 20 states are holding similar dental-care giveaways, with 42 events scheduled for February. The nonprofit organization says volunteer dentists have performed more than $5.5 million worth of free dentistry on 25,000 patients since its inception.
The effort's importance is magnified by the region's high unemployment and foreclosure rates. People losing their jobs, homes and health insurance don't budget money for dental care. For people who don't make it to Monticciolo's office today, there are other alternatives beyond waiting until next February.
Every Wednesday dentists volunteer their time at the Good Samaritan Health Clinic to provide services for the so-called working poor — people without health insurance who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. Patients must qualify financially and are asked for a $5 donation for each visit. And the Pasco County Health Department operates its own dental clinic on Little Road serving juvenile Medicaid patients and qualifying adults who must show proof of Pasco residency and verification of income.
As they did a year ago, patients started lining up outside Monticciolo's office a day in advance to receive their treatment. The eagerness outside is understandable. And, the work to be done today inside is indicative of humanitarianism, community spirit and desire to serve those less fortunate.