Free dental care spawns smiles

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com
Patients wait outside the office of Dr. John L. Gravitte in Mount Airy Saturday after filling out applications for free care through the annual Dentistry from the Heart program. -
Program volunteers, right, scan applications submitted by patients shown in the background. -
Hygienist Kristy Lowe, rights, prepares to serve a client. -

Normally, a wide grin is not associated with a visit to the dentist, but that’s exactly what Joe Dalton wore Saturday when leaving a site in Mount Airy offering free care.

“I had my teeth pulled,” Dalton said — four in all — and while his speech was somewhat hampered by the lingering effects of numbing, he still managed a smile.

That’s because the Fries, Virginia, resident was able to receive much-needed dental services, at no charge. “It feels a lot better,” he said of the teeth being pulled.

“This is the third time I’ve been,” Dalton added of his participation in a program here. Before that, he had not seen the inside of a dentist office for many years.

“Not since I was 15,” Dalton disclosed. “I’m 32.”

Line forms Friday

The Virginia man joined many others from near and far Saturday who took advantage of the offer of free services through the annual Dentistry from the Heart campaign, a non-profit program operated worldwide. It unfolded locally at the office of Dr. John L. Gravitte, D.D.S., P.A., on North Pointe Boulevard off Fowler Road, who was hosting the event for the fourth year.

Patient registration for the free care, provided on a first-come, first-served basis, officially was set for 7:30 a.m. Saturday, but folks started showing up well before then.

“We actually had people here yesterday (Friday) morning at nine o’clock,” said Robert Gravitte, brother of Dr. Gravitte. Robert lives in Kernersville and works in the investment field. But on Saturday he was one of about 40 volunteers helping with the caseload, a team that also included multiple dentists, hygienists and other professionals.

“They slept in their cars or camped in their vans,” Amanda Fretwell, marketing director for Dr. Gravitte’s office, said of those seeking care who stayed overnight in the driveway leading into the facility. “That was just to save their places in line.”

Patients included local residents in addition to those from neighboring counties, Winston-Salem, Virginia and West Virginia.

By about 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 128 people had filled out applications for care, with 144 treated during the Dentistry from the Heart campaign in 2017. Dr. Gravitte said Saturday the event was expected to last until about 5 or 6 p.m.

The procedures provided primarily included extractions, including wisdom teeth, fillings and cleaning, along with diagnostic services.

“There is a tremendous need for dental care, and medical care,” Robert Gravitte said. Some of the recipients are unemployed, while others might work but are unable to afford dental insurance or office visits.

Then there are cases such as that of Joe Dalton, the Fries, Virginia, resident, who works but has found it difficult to see a dentist on week days. The demands of his job limit the time he can do so, which also requires an out-of-town trip from Fries.

In addition, appointments with dentists can be hard to make. “They’re all booked up,” Dalton said in praising how the annual program in Mount Airy “helps out.”

That was echoed by Mahalia East of Boonville, who received free dental treatment Saturday along with her daughter Anna. They lacked the means to obtain needed services, which in Mahalia’s case involved getting a tooth filled which had been bothering her for about six months. Anna, meanwhile, had three extractions.

“Very appreciative,” the Yadkin County mom proclaimed when leaving the office.

“It’s just beyond grateful,” she said of her feelings, “just really grateful.”

Being able to help people in such ways is what motivates Robert Gravitte to volunteer for the annual charitable effort at his brother’s dental practice.

“This is one of my favorite times of the year,” he said of the free dental day when care rendered is repaid with smiles. “Everyone is appreciative of what everybody’s doing.”

Smooth operation

Through several years of involvement, the Dentistry from the Heart team — distinguishable amid a beehive of activity Saturday by their blue T-shirts — has become a model of efficiency.

After filling out applications, those seeking care waited in an area outside the dental office, where amenities such as watermelon slices helped pass the time.

One by one they were called into a waiting room inside the building before screening and checking of vital signs was conducted to pinpoint conditions such as high blood pressure, recent heart attacks or other problems.

“We make sure everyone’s healthy enough to see a dentist,” Robert Gravitte explained.

Those seeking care also were X-rayed using state-of-the-art 3D technology and received oral ID screening to determine the presence of oral cancer, a type of the disease that might otherwise go undetected.

“Most people don’t even know they’ve got it,” said Fretwell, the marketing director. And 76 percent of those who do learn of the cancer find it is at the Stage 3 or 4 levels with slim chances of recovery.

“It definitely saves lives,” Fretwell said of the cancer screening, which helps a dentist identify tissue abnormalities by directing light from a hand-held device into the oral cavity.

Those testing positive are referred to oral surgeons or other specialists.

But all in all, Saturday was a good day in the war against Mr. Tooth Decay — at least making a dent in the problem.

“We just fill a little bitty need,” Dr. Gravitte said during a short break, adding that “there’s so much” need out there.

Patients wait outside the office of Dr. John L. Gravitte in Mount Airy Saturday after filling out applications for free care through the annual Dentistry from the Heart program.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Dent-this-1.jpgPatients wait outside the office of Dr. John L. Gravitte in Mount Airy Saturday after filling out applications for free care through the annual Dentistry from the Heart program.

Program volunteers, right, scan applications submitted by patients shown in the background.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Dent-this-2.jpgProgram volunteers, right, scan applications submitted by patients shown in the background.

Hygienist Kristy Lowe, rights, prepares to serve a client.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Dent-this-3.jpgHygienist Kristy Lowe, rights, prepares to serve a client.

By Tom Joyce

tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.