EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was submitted by Sanibel-Captiva Rotarian Shirley Jewell

Ever have a toothache? It can be excruciating. If you’re lucky, you have dental insurance or can afford to be self-insured. But for a large majority of people in this country, the cost of dental care is prohibitive. Rotary’s guest speaker on Nov. 30 was Periodontist, Cynthia L. Deragon, D.M.D. in Fort Myers, fundraiser for Project Dentists Care, Fort Myers.

Dr. Deragon has an extensive dental resume including serving as the President of the Lee County Dental Society in both 2000-2001 and 2011-2012. In 2018 she served on the fundraising committee for Mission of Mercy (MOM), the Florida Dental Foundation’s project which provides free dental care to the underserved utilizing volunteer dentists & their teams around the United States, including Florida. Her committee raised approximately $400,000 to bring MOM to the Lee County Center this past March, where 2000 patients were seen and treated for dental care. The need is here in Lee County for low-cost and free dental services for many reasons: no dental insurance, unemployment, low wages, drug (legal and illegal) related oral decay, and more.

Dr. Deragon now serves with Executive Director, Dr. William Truax Sr. D.M.D. fundraising for our local dental clinic, PDC located on McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers. PDC treats thousands of needy adults and families in Lee County. PDC is a low-income dental clinic sponsored by the Lee County Dental Society and is staffed by dentists who volunteer time on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. There are currently 45 dentists that give various amounts of time to this cause during the year. The clinic has just moved their office to their new location at 2051 McGregor Blvd. giving them more space which allows them to see more patients. This clinic has the latest dental equipment and services. A full-time scheduler/secretary and dental assistant are the only paid staff. With generous contributions from United Way, Florida Department of Health-Lee County, and generous donors the PDC was able to service slightly over 2,000 patients last year.

Project Dentists Care wants to get the word out, they are here to help people who have traditionally no other place to go put the Emergency Rooms at our hospitals when they can no longer stand the pain from decaying teeth. Emergency departments don’t employ dentists, so doctors can do little more for dental patients than give them painkillers and antibiotics. This helps in the short run but not in the long run. They often refer patients to PDC.
PDC performs miracles for their patients…of course, they get rid of pain, but they also give dignity back.

A person’s oral health is an indicator off their physical health over all, but mental health is also affected. Presenting ourselves to others with a smile makes that very first important impression. You can’t really smile, if you have no front teeth or if you have drawn-in cheeks because of rotting or neglected teeth. The truth is many people can’t afford to have dental care. As time goes by, they may lose their teeth… including their front teeth. After that, a person’s ability to smile is lost. People with no front teeth are marginalized and judged today in our society; they themselves are embarrassed. An employer won’t hired you, so getting a job is probably not going to happen. There is real value in a smile…you need one in many situations.

Dr. Truact and his team of dedicated volunteer dentists with Project Dentists Care not only bring their patient’s their smiles back, but these volunteer dentists do so much more. They can renew a spirit. Patient renew confidence, personalities can shine again, and patient can smile again. Dr. Deragon told us of patients that cry after seeing themselves for the first time, in a long time, smile again. They regain hope for the better days ahead with a big smile.

PDC was created to meet the needs of low- or no-income patients who do not qualify for public aid. Dentists give their time, maybe we could help in their mission to serve the under-served in oral hygiene affordability and support them with a small contribution.
I can remember comedian, Jim Durante, singing the song “Smile” … “When you're smiling, When you're smiling, The whole world smiles with you, When you're laughing, When you're laughing, The sun comes shining through, But when you're crying you bring on the rain, So stop your sighing be happy again, Keep on smiling 'cause when you're smiling, The whole world smiles with you.”

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m. Friday mornings at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, Sanibel. Guests are always welcomed.