By Joanna Chau
Kelly Bone can’t remember the last time she saw a dentist.
She estimates it was more than five years ago for a cleaning. On Saturday, Bone was able to visit the dentist for one reason — it was free.
“I don’t have any insurance,” admitted Bone before a cleaning. “I can’t afford the dentist. It’s too expensive. There are other things right now that are more important, but I came when I saw the ad.”
Bone was one of the 100 patients who visited Bonita Dental Care to get a cleaning, filling or extraction at no cost.
Owner of the dental office, Dr. Fred Eck and his staff along with associates from Fort Myers and Marco Dental Care offered these services for one day as part of Dentistry From The Heart’s Spreading Free Smiles Movement. Through the organization, individual dentists and practices across the country donate their time and resources to host free dental service events.
“We live in an area where people think there is not much need for this,” said Eck, who also owns Marco Dental Care. “But there are people here having problems, and it’s important to help those that are walking around with infections and toothaches that can’t otherwise get it done.”
This is the first time Bonita Dental Care has put on this type of event. People started forming a line at midnight, Eck said. At 7:30 a.m. there were about 60 people waiting for the doors to open. By 10 a.m. the team of dentists, hygienist, assistants and other staff had already served 80 patients. They would continue until 4 p.m., guaranteeing to serve at least 100 people.
“I think anyone who wants to get into the health care profession wants to help people,” said Dr. Hershell Gene Steele, the owner of Fort Myers Dental Care. “There are many ways to help but we are dentists and this is a natural extension of us being able to help people.”
During the day, Eck and his associates said they treated a few children who had painful infections, but most were adults who needed serious surgical extractions.
“People who lose their teeth because of gum disease never have a day of pain until their teeth get loose and have to be taken out,” Eck said. “Unfortunately, most dental problems don’t cause pain until it’s too late.”
Eck said most patients could not afford dental care because they are out of work or have jobs but had their benefits cut. A cleaning cost $95 any other day; an extraction ranges from $65 to $350; a filling cost $85 to $325.
“Once people don’t have insurance, they quit going,” Eck said. “And if it’s three or four years until you get a job with dental insurance, the damage has been done.”
For Bonita residents Paul Dantonio and his daughter, Aleyna, it was not a matter of money, but time. They have been on a month-long waiting list to get a cleaning at the Edison State College Dental Hygiene Clinic, which offers reduced cost cleaning. The event was a convenient option.
“It’s hard to get an appointment,” Dantonio said at Edison’s clinic. “This came up sooner and we needed it, so we both came.”
As Bone sat in the hygienist’s chair, she looked happy to back after years of putting it off.
“I’m just glad to be here,” Bone said. “I’m truly grateful.”