When they first announced an upcoming free dental clinic, organizers were poised to treat as many as 450 children.
Friday, only about 100 showed up.
“Every year we go through the same thing,” said Maggie Hall, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas, where dentists took part in the countywide effort for children from low-income families.
“I’m not sure if the problem is getting the word out earlier or just letting more parents know about it.”
Roughly a dozen dentists and about two dozen hygienists staffed six clinics Friday for the Give Kids A Smile Pinellas program, which started in 2000. Some work for the health department, while others are in private practice and gave up a day’s wages to volunteer.
The numbers of children taking advantage of the program has been dropping. A few years ago, dentists examined and treated about 250 children, but the number fell to about 175 last year, said Sanjie Jackson, a Dunedin dentist who coordinated the program.
Aside from lower-than-expected interest in the program, 10 to 15 percent of children who were signed up didn’t show up for their appointments Friday, Jackson said.
“It’s a great service,” Hall said. “They get their fillings and dental care and there’s no charge. You’d think there’d be more.”
Organizers even enlisted school social workers and counselors in the fall to get the word out, and the county itself put out social media alerts about the free service, Hall said.
“I’m not sure if parents are confused, or they are not hearing about it,” she said.
The children seen Friday, who came from Oldsmar to South St. Petersburg, had their teeth cleaned and X-rayed and received fluoride applications, Jackson said. Some got fillings and had their teeth pulled. Some were fitted with spring retainers, which prevent their teeth from becoming more crooked.
To be eligible for the program, children had to be between 4 and 14, be without any health insurance and meet income requirements.