Free pop-up dental clinic in Phoenix reaches patient capacity by noon Friday
What do you get when you put roughly 300 dentists, several hundred hygienists and 100 chairs under the same roof at the Arizona State Fairgrounds?
An annual free pop-up dental clinic. The Arizona Dental Association Cares Foundation (AzDA Cares) has held this one for 11 years. On Friday, they reached patient capacity by noon.
Kevin Earle, the foundation’s president, said the need for those services has only grown.
“We take demographic information and 80% of our patients are under the federal poverty level,” said Earle. “These are folks that have trouble putting bread on the table, let alone being able to afford to go see a dentist on a routine basis.”
Which Earle noted is “effectively the population covered under Medicaid.”
“We have gone to the legislature year after year after year to illustrate these problems,” he said of the gaps in state Medicaid coverage that lead many patients to the annual clinic. “And unfortunately, we never seem to make it into the budget.”
The way we view dental care, Earle said, has to change.
“Dentistry sort of is sort of the redheaded stepchild of health care,” said Earle. “It's always treated something separately, but it's the gateway to good nutrition. It's the gateway to good health. And somehow it’s treated in a very secondary way.”
Those who need the clinic’s services often put off routine visits to the dentist, said Earle, which can lead to things like tooth decay and affect their overall health. In some cases, “because of the fact that they're lacking the appropriate dentition, it affects their nutrition and their ability to gain weight. They … tend to be thin, their cheeks are sunken in.”
According to Earle, in a lot of cases people — particularly seniors — have trouble accessing dentures.
“Once you put the denture in and you see that first smile,” he said, “their entire face just lights up. It's a remarkable transformation. And it's just wonderful that we can be able to provide that service for folks.”
Earle said they’ve provided roughly $23 million of free care to over 20,000 people. AzDA Cares hopes to bring smaller events to areas like Flagstaff and Tucson.