Free Dental Clinic Comes to the KP

Nonprofits worked together on a new event for anyone needing dental care.

Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

The Key Peninsula Lutheran Church hosted the first of its kind KP Free Dental Clinic for all comers when McColley Hall was transformed into a giant dental clinic Jan. 31 and Feb. 7. Teams of dental health professionals provided free screening, cleanings and extensive dental care all under one roof.

“The Pierce County Dental Foundation heard about the two years of success with Medical Teams International dental vans operating on the KP and offered to build onto that program. Today they brought in six dentists and a dozen hygienists,” according to Ben and Susan Paganelli, the executive directors of the Key Peninsula Partnership for a Healthy Community.

“The KPPHC was designed to connect the great people already committed to strengthening the community…and to do it in a way that is meaningful and will have long term impact,” Ben Paganelli said.

“A lot of the hygienists are students and it’s an opportunity for them to get their hands-on practicum work,” Susan Paganelli said. Students from Pierce College, Bates and Clover Park technical schools participated. “That’s how this community demonstrates its strength.”

“The project, several years in the making, is intended to find a foothold on the KP to continue providing and expanding free dental health care options,” Ben Paganelli said.

“We have 473 member dentists in the Pierce County Dental Society; it’s kind of like a fraternal society,” said Jen Bunch, who coordinates events for the county dental foundation started by Dr. Rich Coyner in 2002 to serve as the society’s charitable arm.

“As a small foundation, we are very persnickety about where the money goes,” Coyner said. “A lot of these people end up in the emergency room and that gets expensive as well, so we’re trying to preclude that from happening.”

“What I’d really like to do is to do this more often,” Coyner said. “If we could get into a groove where we knew that we could have this event every three months, that would be nice. We could cater to it a lot better.”

Nicole Otto of Vaughn, a mother of two, lost a filling recently and said she knew she was well-overdue for some dental hygiene. But without insurance, Otto said, “Just getting in the door can be outrageous.”

Her husband has dental insurance through his employer and their two children, ages 9 and 11 years old, are both covered. But Otto lacks dental coverage for herself. After getting cost estimates to fix her tooth, she realized she “couldn’t pay or afford it –– with or without insurance –– dental care was out of reach.”

“The truth is, there are a lot of us out here who don’t have dental insurance but don’t meet that very low-income level to qualify for assistance,” Otto said.

Like most dental practices, there was a reception area, patient intake forms to be completed, and a waiting area before screenings, cleanings and exams began.Dozens of patients were scheduled for additional treatment to begin the following week.

Parked alongside the church , a giant red “dental van,” operated by Medical Teams International had a complete dental suite fully equipped with its own dental assistant. The MTI van provides dental care with regularly scheduled visits to Key Peninsula Community Services in Home.

“Everyone really pulled together to make this dental event a huge success,” Susan Paganelli said. “That’s how this community demonstrates its strength.”