Going to the dentist and eager children aren’t typically associated with one another. But in Bithlo, that’s not the case. With the excitement typically reserved for special occasions such as visiting a theme park, the elementary students come bounding up the bus steps. They throw their arms in the welcoming embrace of the Tooth Fairy and enthusiastically wait for their turn. Michelle Lawton, aka “the Tooth Fairy,” is the patient care coordinator for the mobile dentistry unit and the students are eagerly anticipating having their teeth examined and cleaned.
Heart of Florida United Way identified a need for oral health care access in Bithlo as the closest dentist was miles away and many residents didn’t have insurance anyway. Managed by Florida Hospital and funded through a three-year-grant by Heart of Florida United Way, the mobile dentistry unit has been changing lives one smile at a time. It operates under the license and care of Dr. Pearl Burns and with the help of UCF Dentistry student volunteers. The large bus that has been converted into a traveling dentist office has become a welcomed sight in the small rural community on the outskirts of Orange County.
Elizabeth is one patient who has seen her entire life turned around by the dental bus. Without regular access to oral health hygiene, her teeth were chipped, missing and rotted. She constantly hid her smile behind her hands out of embarrassment. A woman with an entrepreneurial spirit, she wanted to start her own cleaning business but found herself lacking the confidence to approach potential clients as she was worried about being judged as untrustworthy because of her appearance.
Then the mobile dentist unit rolled in and everything changed.
By fixing her teeth, Elizabeth has not only gained better overall health and confidence but she now has sustainable employment with her successful business. Nothing holds her back as she proudly shows off her smile and she works hard to make sure everyone in her community knows about the mobile dentistry unit.
Your Dollars at Work
While oral health is sometimes taken for granted, it plays a crucial part in staying healthy. Toothaches can become infected, leaving victims too sick to attend work or school. From emergency treatments to preventative care, the mobile dentistry unit is doing more than just fixing smiles. They are helping to keep kids in class, ending the cycle of bad oral hygiene by teaching preventative techniques, building confidence in someone who has never known it before and working to improve an entire community.
With your contribution to Heart of Florida United Way, we will continue to fund programs like this and much more.