PINELLAS PARK (FOX 13) - Given the choice, most kids would probably opt to skip going to the dentist. Many kids in the Bay Area, however, don't get that choice. They're not going because their parents simply can't afford to take them to a dentist.
"Unfortunately the need is so great, in our county and in Florida in general. We are one of the lowest states to have access to free dental care," explained Dr. Haychell Saraydar, who heads up the Florida Department of Health's Pinellas Park dental clinic.
That's why events like Saturday's Give Kids A Smile clinic are so important. The annual event provides exams, cleanings, x-rays, fillings and more for kids and teens, completely free of charge.
"The idea here is to help them with whatever is needed most at the moment. If it's a tooth that needs to be removed, a filling, whatever is needed," said Saraydar.
It's also a chance for the clinic's team of dentists and hygienists to educate their young patients about the importance of daily cavity prevention and bi-annual dental check ups.
"It's very rewarding when I can get across to one or two families a month and see that they can get some benefit from that and improve their dental care," said dentist Elaine Wong, who retired from her private practice and now spends her time helping patients who often can't afford dental care.
"These children are missing school days. These children are in pain and their parents cannot afford to take them to the dentist," said Saraydar.
The clinic is one of six DOH dental clinics in Pinellas County. The clinics accept adult and pediatric patients year-round, regardless of coverage. Uninsured kids and adults are charged a discounted fee for services, but free events like Saturday's clinic are a big help to families in need.
A second free dental clinic for 4- to 18-year-olds will be held on February 20th at the Pinellas Park center located at 6350 76th Ave. North.
For more information visit www.PinellasHealth.com or call (727) 824-6900.