KEY LARGO RIBBON CUTTING FOR PEDIATRIC DENTAL VAN GAVE COMMUNITY A REASON TO SMILE

County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron, in brown jacket, watches as Keys AHEC CEO Michael Cunningham cuts the ribbon with future young patients and staff of the dental van. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

On Jan. 4, Keys AHEC Health Centers chief executive officer Michael Cunningham, along with a gaggle of children, triumphantly cut a ribbon in front of the new pediatric dental services van stationed that day at Key Largo School.

“We’re now taking appointments!” he shouted with a large smile to the applauding crowd gathered for the opening ceremony of the Keys AHEC Dental Unit.

“This is a game changer for children in the Florida Keys,” said County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron, who attended the event. “We’re grateful to every agency that made this dream come true.”

The Waypoint Foundation played a key role in this dream. 

“The Waypoint Foundation’s mission is to celebrate creativity in education, exhibition and collaboration to address unmet needs in the Florida Keys,” said Clarice Yentsch, who is the organization’s past president and founder.

“We’re proud and happy to play a part in dental services for children,” said the current president of Waypoint, Christine Golia. “Clarice is the catalyst and the creative force. The van started with a chance meeting between Clarice and dentist Wally Smith.”

Smith told Keys Weekly that after he retired from dentistry, he created a mobile dental clinic in North Carolina called Miles of Smiles. In 2019, during a chance meeting with Yentsch, she asked him, “Can you do the same thing here in the Keys?”

“And three years later, here we are,” Smith said, noting that according to his research in 2019, out of the 22 dentists in Monroe County, not one accepted Medicaid.

”There was nothing for indigent children,” he said.

Yentsch is grateful to Keys AHEC for partnering with Waypoint on the project, which is called “the SmileMaker Initiative.” Waypoint also received support from Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Ocean Reef Community Foundation, Baptist Health and the Commissioned Officers Foundation.

The van will be stationed up and down the Keys on a 10-week rotation, AHEC’s Cunningham said. 

“We have over 100 appointments already,” he added, pointing out that a $10 flat fee includes an exam, X-rays, a cleaning and general dentistry such as fillings. For children who need more extensive dental work, the Key West Rotary Club has a voucher program available.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Cunningham. “We look forward to serving the kids.”

To make an appointment, parents can call 305-743-7111, extension 220. For more information, go to keysahec.org/dental.

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