Gerald Adams students help cut the ribbon with AHEC’s Michael Cunningam, center, and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston, Schools Superintendent Theresa Axford and County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron.

Some kids take for granted their twice-a-year dental cleaning and checkup, their choice of flavored toothpaste and a free new toothbrush. But plenty of other kids have never visited a dentist, not for a cleaning, an exam or any necessary fillings.

The Florida Keys’ Area Health Education Center has changed all that and is now offering free pediatric dental care to every child in the Florida Keys with its new mobile dental unit.

The converted RV will travel the Keys and visit schools on a 10-week rotation, said AHEC Director and CEO Michael Cunningham during the Jan. 6 ribbon cutting at Gerald Adams Elementary School on Stock Island.

“But kids don’t have to wait until the unit shows up at their particular school,” he said. “They can come wherever it is and whenever.”

As of the ribbon-cutting, before the unit had even hit the road, Cunningham said he had “120 appointments scheduled and 30 phone calls to return for appointments.”

He also shared an alarming statistic: that 37% of children in the Keys who had never seen a dentist before needed work that was serious enough to send them to a children’s hospital in Miami.

The new service is being offered through a fundraising partnership with the Waypoint Foundation and the Smile Maker program. Services include dental exams, X-rays, cleanings, fillings, sealants and dental education. There will be a $10 fee for service and no other costs for parents. 

To schedule an appointment, call 305-743-7111 ext. 220. Parents must complete initial patient packets, which can be printed from keysahec.org/dental.

The Florida Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC), founded in 1990, provides community-based health education and medical services throughout Monroe County. Services include school-based primary health care to youth in Monroe County, as well as other community health support and education. All programs are provided at no cost to the families.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.