Dr. Rebekkah Merrell knows millions of people don't have access to the services her team provides daily. So for one day, she's doing something about it.
"We understand that many people in our community, and across the nation, haven't been to the dentist for a long period of time," said Merrell, with Edgewater Family Dental in Indian Land.
"Some don't understand the importance of dental health, but more often than not, they don't have the financial means."
Finances won't be a problem Saturday, when the Edgewater team and Dr. Edward Shapiro, of West Town Dental Care, participate in Free Dentistry Day.
Patients get a choice of one free cleaning or an extraction. The event runs 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Merrell's office. Patients will be taken by appointment on a first-come, first-served basis.
"This event is a great opportunity for us to share our time and resources with those less fortunate and give back to the community," Merrell said.
Free Dentistry Day is an effort by dentists to serve a growing number of adults who can't afford dental services.
Last year, more than 2,500 patients nationwide were served with more than $1 million in free dental services. About 108 million Americans are living without dental insurance, according to freedentistryday.org.
Saturday is Edgewater Family Dental's first time participating.
"It's very gratifying to see the impact that events like Free Dentistry Day can have on the life of a person," Merrell said. "At the same time we're changing their life, they're changing ours."
With some other services in York County recently ending, Clover Area Assistance Center may have the only free dental clinic remaining. Dr. Stacy Blackmon with Lake Wylie Family Dentistry joined CAAC in 2004, opening a clinic for uninsured adults out of one chair in what's now a storage closet.
In 2012, a three-chair clinic opened, offering up to two dozen appointments each week. Yet the clinic, which as part of CAAC serves only residents within the Clover School District boundaries, still has people waiting.
"We have a waiting list that goes into the fall. It usually runs three to five months," said Karen van Vierssen, CAAC director.
Blackmon offers everything from basic cleanings to partial and full dentures at the CAAC site.
Because uninsured patients often arrive having gone a considerable amount of time since their last dentist visits, it takes an average of 12 dental visits to correct the various issues faced.
"The issues are usually severe," van Vierssen said.
The Clover center is always looking for more dentists to donate time.
It isn't easy, van Vierssen said, with malpractice liability a greater concern working with uninsured patients. But the results are widespread. Signs and symptoms of more than 100 medical conditions, from diabetes to oral cancer, can be detected through oral exams, according to Free Dentistry Day.
There are stigmas people who lack dental care face in searching for jobs, too, van Vierssen said.
"It's a huge need," she said. "Affordable dental care for adults, is really critical. It's really missing."
Which is why Merrell and her team are taking a day to impact people, too.
"Dental health is a vital part of a person's overall health," she said. "Through this event, we hope to educate patients on the importance of dental health coverage and encourage them to adopt an ongoing oral care regimen."
Why the lack of coverage?
Part of the reason a lack of dental coverage is a concern for adults is that it isn't mandatory. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act put new regulations in place for healthcare nationwide. A marketplace formed for people looking for coverage, and people able to afford health insurance were required to have it or pay a fee.
Dental coverage is optional, so adults aren't penalized for being uncovered.
Last year, the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed the mandate that everyone have health insurance, though the repeal doesn't begin until 2019.
Federal law lists dental coverage as an essential health benefit for children. It has to be available as part of a health plan, or as a stand- alone option, on the marketplace for anyone age 18 and younger. Dental care isn't considered an essential health benefit for adults. Insurers don't have to offer coverage in their plans.
Dental coverage is included in some, but not all, marketplace health plans. Stand-alone dental packages are offered, but can't be bought without buying a health plan at the same time.
Want to go?
Edgewater Family Dental is located at 1028 Edgewater Corporate Pkwy., suite 101, in Indian Land. Free Dentistry Day runs 8 a.m.-2 p.m. June 30, with appointments on a first-come, first-served basis. For more, call 803-835-2500 or visit edgewaterfamilydental.com.