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Vermont dentists host free dental care day

More than $250,000 in dental care performed on some 340 patients

Wilmington, Vt.—May 21 was a day for people who sometimes fall through the cracks.

Image: Helping hand: Dr. John-Michael Stewart examines a patient with the help of Nannette Amidon, dental assistant.
Helping hand: Dr. John-Michael Stewart, left, who helped organize the free care day, examines a patient with the help of Nannette Amidon, dental assistant, right.

They make too much money to qualify for state or federal assistance but still face economic hardships and have no dental insurance. So many have to go without access to oral care.

Dentists in southern Vermont recognized this and wanted to help. More than 40 dentists participated in a free dental care day May 21, said to be the largest in the state’s history. Five dental and oral surgery practices in three counties hosted the event, where more than $250,000 in dental care was performed on some 340 patients.

“It’s those folks that are in the middle that don’t have decent paying jobs but make a little too much to qualify for Medicaid. They’re the ones who find it difficult to fit dental care into their daily budgets,” said Dr. Robert Ruhl, of Wilmington, who helped organize the event.

The inception of the event came from Dr. John- Michael Stewart, who’s a member of the International Team for Implantology, a professional association that began urging its members to give back to their communities. He partnered with Dr. Ruhl and Dr. Louis Beaudette in 2008 to organize a smaller free clinic event, a success that led them to expand the event to what it became this year.

“The other ITI members were amazed at what we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time,” Dr. Stewart said. “I feel very proud to be a part of it. They’re my favorite days of the year.”

The day was also popular among patients.

“It was really well-received. The doctors all enjoyed it,” Dr. Ruhl said. “The patients were so appreciative and were so nice to work with.”

Dentists and oral surgeons did extractions and dental restorative care on a first-come, first-served basis to Vermonters 18 and older who do not have dental insurance. Clinics were held at offices in Bennington, Manchester, Rutland, Wilmington and Brattleboro, and dental supply companies provided much of what was needed to provide care.

“It wasn’t total dentistry for these folks, but we certainly got them into a situation where they were able to chew better and smile more confidently,” said Dr. David Neumeister, one of the dentists who provided care. “It’s a lot easier to prevent fires than it is to put out fires.”

The success of the event is a tribute to Vermonters’ willingness to help, Dr. Stewart said.

“We’re able to do so many things because the local communities help fund these projects,” Dr. Stewart said. “It’s more than just dentistry we’re doing. The whole community comes together for these so it’s pretty awesome.”

Dr. Ruhl hopes to expand the free clinic day next year.

“I think there is a potential next May that we’ll have every county in Vermont participating,” Dr. Ruhl said. “That’s the goal."