Despite heavy rains, their first patient showed up at 6 p.m. the evening before, bringing a folding chair and pillow. By 3 a.m. a few more had come in and by the time the office opened, close to 100 were crowding the waiting room, lined up out the door and huddled under a tent provided for them.
The reason for such a large, and early, crowd was something called “Dentistry from the Heart.”
Somewhat along the lines of the Agape free medical clinic, “Dentistry from the Heart” is an international program that provides some types of free dental care to those who cannot afford it.
The event here was held by Dr. Kevin Rowan at Rowan Family Dentistry.
He first heard of the program during a meeting at Atlanta, Ga. “We work with a company called ‘The Scheduling Instutute,’” he said. The company helps dental practices with marketing and management and owner Jay Geier had learned of “Dentistry from the Heart” from one of his clients, Dr. Vincent Monticciolo of Tampa, Fla., who founded it in 2001.
“He challenged us to do it at the last meeting. There were about 3,500 there,” Rowan said.
The program is simple. It is open to those 18 and older who cannot afford dental care otherwise and each patient has the choice of getting a cleaning, a filling or an extraction. The limit of only three procedures is because of the time others take and the huge influx of patients that need to be seen in only one day. As to checking whether the patients can really not afford care, “That’s between them and God,” Rowan said.
When publicizing the special day, Rowan promised that at least 65 patients would receive care, but advised coming early and being prepared to wait.
Well before 9 a.m. they had registered over 100 patients and thought at least 125 were there. The system was working well, thanks to a small army of church and other volunteers as well as family members of the staff there to help speed up the process. “We are already about halfway (to 65),” Rowan said concerning the number of treatments completed or in progress about 8:50 a.m.
Rowan said the program is so successful he probably will do it again later in the year. “We may do it twice a year,” he said. “The number of rooms is the biggest thing holding us back.”
That problem may be solved before too long. Rowan said that he has purchased land just down the street near the intersection of Coulter Drive and Denton Road where he plans to build a new clinic. “It will have 22 operatoriums and all digital CT technology,” he said. He hopes to add more doctors to help in addition to himself, Dr. Conner Bills and Dr. Matthew Chow who are there now. “My goal is five,” he said.
Not only was the group of patients large, it was diverse. “We have people from Lee, Pontotoc, of course Union, Chickasaw counties and even one from Selmer, Tenn.,” he said.
As far as Rowan knows, the closest other dentist offering the “Dentistry from the Heart” program is in Macon, Miss., close to a three-hour drive from here.
Rowan said he had received help from “a ton of sponsors” to help offset the cost but estimated the value of services they would be giving Friday at $30,000, and it could possibly be even more based on an average of $375 per patient.
But if cost were a factor, he did not say so.
“Jay (who challenged the dentists in Atlanta) talked about some of the world’s wealthiest people,” Rowan said and they all had one thing in common: they recommended giving more away.
“You need to give back to your community and not be a taker,” Rowan said. “New Albany has been so good to us. The more I have given the more I have been blessed.”
For more information about the program, go to www.dentistryfromtheheart.org.
Although “Dentistry from the Heart” includes only those 18 and over, “Give Kids a Smile,” another national dental nonprofit, provides children 18 and under with free dental care during the month of February. Their website is at http://www.gkas.org.