ST. PETERSBURG — Every year, the Pinellas County Health Department has offered free dental exams and X-rays to students heading back to school. But for the past few years, the turnout has been disappointing.
“We could have helped a lot more kids,” said Maggie Hall, public information officer with the health department. “The idea is to see as many children as possible.”
Fewer than 75 students ages 4 to 18 took advantage of the free exams, held all day Tuesday at the health department’s office at 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., St. Petersburg, and 310 N. Myrtle Ave., Clearwater. In Clearwater, 48 students received check-ups, and only 25 had checkups in St. Petersburg.
No appointment or proof of economic status was necessary for the free checkups, Hall said. The only requirements were that the students be new patients with the health department’s dentists and be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
If a child needed additional services, such as fillings for a cavity, they made appointments that day to come back at a future date. The health department is the largest Medicaid dental provider in the county, and those follow-ups were offered on a low-cost sliding fee scale for those without dental insurance.
The low turnout this year could be because of a lack of media attention, Hall said.
“In past years we used to see many more kids. I remember years where we would have more than 100 a day,” Hall said. “We don’t have any marketing funds to buy ads, we just try to get the words out to the schools and the media. The other issue is, because it’s a weekday, some parents find it hard to bring in their kids.”
Previously, members of the Pinellas Dental Association also offered free services to students, but in recent years the event has been canceled, Hall said. The health department exams also used to be offered at multiple locations instead of the two open Tuesday.
Despite the low numbers, the department of health will continue to offer its free dental exams every August, Hall said.
“The dentists certainly made more goody bags and devoted more time than the demand they saw this year, but we’re hoping next year somehow the word will get out,” Hall said.