Dental clinic to bring low-cost smiles

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By Eryn Worthington

Imagine waking up at 3 a.m. with a terrible throbbing toothache that has been bothering you for months. No relief is in sight, since you have no dental insurance.

Your only option of temporary liberation is the emergency room. However, you know in the back of your head they will only provide a figurative Band-Aid to your pain; once the pain medication wears off, the toothache will be back. You sigh in confusion, not knowing what to do to fix the problem.

Nature Coast Ministries and Catholic Charities recognized the predicament faced by many and have a resolution — a free, permanent dental clinic.

The Knights of Columbus donated its building at 9020 W. Atlas Drive in Homosassa to Catholic Charities. The bishop dedicated the renovation of the building for offices, meeting rooms and dental and medical care. The Catholic Charities Citrus Community Outreach Center is a location that will provide part-time facilities for the We Care Food Pantry, Pregnancy and Family Life Center, Citrus Abuse Shelter Association and Nature Coast Ministries Dental and Medical Clinic.

Homosassa dentist Dr. Frank Vascimini and 20 other dental and medical personnel are volunteering their time and have received sovereign immunity — through the Florida Volunteer Health Services Department — to provide dental services free to needy Citrus County elderly, veterans, homeless and low-income adults.

“The health department offers dental care for children; however, there is no place for adults,” said Tom Slagle, director of Nature Coast Ministries. “All of our dentists are licensed by the state of Florida.”

Currently, they will focus only on extractions and fillings, as those are the typical dental emergency. Further down the line, organizers may consider expanding services. Also, times of operations are to be determined by dentist availability.

The free dental program meets a glaring need in the community.

“One hospital was spending $750,000 a year on emergency care for people with dental emergencies,” said Bonnie McMullin, public relations for Nature Coast Ministries. “They were giving them medication and painkillers, but eight weeks later they were back because they ran out of medicine and the tooth wasn’t fixed. It is a cycle.”

Recognizing the need in Citrus County, a retiring dentist in Sarasota donated his dental office equipment. A hospital donated money to purchase the rest of needed equipment.

“These dentists are going to come in and be working with the best equipment available,” Slagle said. “This is a huge thing for Citrus County. The need is tremendous.”

The dental clinic is ready to open; however, there is one thing standing in the way — money for supplies and utilities.

It costs $25 per person for supplies for dental work to be done. Work is performed for free; however, supplies and utilities need to be covered.

“If it cost $25 a person times 25 patients, that is $625 a week or $32,500 a year,” McMullin said. “We don’t charge anyone for services, but if we don’t have the supplies we can’t help them.”

Slagle said Black Diamond in Lecanto donated $6,200 to buy the basic supplies. However, their struggle is to outline how to continue to compensate for supplies and utilities after the donation has been used.

“I tell individuals that if every household in Citrus County gave us a dollar a week, that would equal $52 a year,” Slagle said. “That’s two clients that could be treated.”

Citrus County transit will make six daily stops at the clinic.

“Say you live in Floral City,” Slagle said, “you can ride the bus from Floral City to our location and back for only $2.”

Slagle and McMullin feel a permanent dental clinic in Citrus County is life changing.

“It is such a blessing because these people couldn’t afford to have this care,” McMullin said. “Some people in this community have never been to a dentist — adults. This will be such a boon for people’s self esteem. Maybe for the first time in their life they will be able to get the tooth fixed that has been hurting them for months or years.”

For donations, make contributions to Nature Coast Ministries Samaritans at 999 N.E. Fifth St., Crystal River, FL 34429, or visit online at myncm.com.

Chronicle reporter Eryn Worthington can be contacted at 352-563-5660, ext. 1334, or eworthington@chronicleonline.com.