SKOWHEGAN — Angie Goldsmith received a cleaning at Northwoods Dental at no cost last year. Goldsmith, 59, who is disabled and has no insurance, woke up early to wait in line with her 28-year-old son after she heard about the opportunity on TV.

“First thing first is taking care of your home and living expenses,” said Goldsmith, of Skowhegan. “After that, groceries and everyday things like gas usually take up the rest. Dental care was one of the things I sorrily had to eliminate from my budget.”

Goldsmith is planning to go back on Friday for another free cleaning. She’ll be among many who do.

Dentists and employees at Northwoods Dental, on North Avenue, are not scheduling appointments on Friday and will instead open their doors on a first come, first served basis to the uninsured and people who can’t afford dental care. It is one of eight dental offices around the state that will be providing free care on Friday as part of Dentists Who Care for ME, a day designated to helping alleviate the cost of paying for dental care for the uninsured.

In Somerset County, that’s a big deal. More than 48 percent of residents of the county have not received dental care in the past year, according to Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, and 14 percent of the population is uninsured, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to public health.

“There isn’t a lot of coverage for dental treatment and a lot of people that have no coverage at all, either through insurance or MaineCare,” said Demi Kouzounas, a dentist at Northwoods Dental. “We thought ‘Why don’t we just open our offices for a free day of care?’ We get a bunch of dentists together, our staff and hygienists. Everybody volunteers, supplies the materials needed and does it for free.”

The annual event, held each year on the first Friday in November, was started six years ago through the Greater Portland Dental Society, and participating dentists are hoping the event will spread to more offices around the state. There are 20 dentists at eight offices participating this year.

About 600 people statewide received free dental care through Dentists Who Care for ME last year, including about 40 people who received care at Northwoods Dental, said Kouzounas, who lives in Saco and splits her time between the Skowhegan office and the Dustan Dental Center in Scarborough. Kouzounas is also a co-founder of Dentists Who Care for ME.

She said the Skowhegan office has patients coming from as far away as Aroostook County.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “They come here with a tooth that’s been bothering them for a while, but they don’t have the wherewithal to have that tooth removed.”

Northwoods Dental is open from 8 a.m. to noon Friday and will provide free cleanings, fillings and extractions for adults. The normal cost for those procedures is between $150 and $200, said Kouzounas. The focus is on providing care for adults, since most children are covered through MaineCare, she said.

There are no dental benefits for adults on MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program for the poor, except in circumstances involving underlying medical conditions or serious threats to a patient’s overall health. A proposed law that would have allowed MaineCare recipients to receive one free dental cleaning per year was rejected by lawmakers in March.

Kouzounas said she’d like to see the state of Maine offer one dental cleaning per year to MaineCare adults, but “we also know it’s very expensive.”

“With budget cuts and all we just want to do our part as dentists and really give back to our community,” she said.

Free dental care events are also common across the country, according to the American Dental Association. On Oct. 12, for example, a convention center in San Antonio, Texas, was transformed into a 100-chair dental clinic to treat about 1,000 adults and children who couldn’t afford regular dental care, as part of the association’s Mission of Mercy program.

The dental association estimates that more than 75 million Americans won’t visit a dentist this year “even though nearly half of people over 30 suffer from some form of gum disease and an estimated 25 percent of children under the age of five already have cavities,” according to the association’s website. The association also estimates that dentists provided $2.16 billion in free or discounted care in 2007.

For Goldsmith, the free cleaning is a chance to properly care for her teeth every six months. Previously, she could only afford a visit about once a year.

“It definitely allowed me to at least do that much,” she said. “I’m getting older and I want to keep the teeth I have left.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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