Waldo County Dental Care Improves Community Health through Dentistry
September 16, 2020
Communications and Public Affairs Manager
BELFAST, Maine – When it comes to dental care, you might not know what you have lost until you get it back. Just ask Belfast resident John Pangiochi. Pangiochi, 64, had neglected his teeth for so long that it became too painful to chew the kind of nutritious food that many people take for granted, like nuts, apples and raw carrots. And with every one of Pangiochi’s upper teeth chipped or broken or black with rot, he was too embarrassed to smile.
All that changed when Pangiocho sought help from the Waldo County Dental Care, a non-profit agency that provides free and reduced-price dental work to hundreds of low-income, uninsured adults and children covered by MaineCare in Waldo County every year.
“Dental decay happens over such a long period of time that it just becomes a part of your existence,” Pangiochi says. “When you get back to dental health, your life changes. You feel better, you eat better and you smile again.”
Now in its sixth year, Waldo County Dental Care has helped more than 3,000 community members who are otherwise unable to afford a dentist. To qualify, patients must reside in Waldo County and meet income requirements based on the number of people living in the household. There is a $40 co-pay for services.
The need is so great that Waldo County Dental Care finds itself maintaining a waiting list that grew when the clinic was forced to suspend office visits during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But we are working through the backlog, and I encourage those who need our services to call for an appointment,” says Amanda Hood, manager of the clinic. “We are committed to the wellness of the entire community."
Waldo County Dental Care was founded in 2013. Funding for the clinic comes from grants, including recent grants from United Midcoast Charities and Northeast Delta Dental Foundation. In addition, Waldo County General Hospital (WCGH) also provides funding and space for the clinic at 125 Northport Ave. on the WCGH campus in Belfast.
When fully staffed, the clinic employs one dentist, two dental assistants, a dental hygienist and a medical receptionist and cares for more than 500 patients a year. That number may seem small. After all, a dentist in private practice typically sees between 1,600 and 2,300 patients a year. The difference is in the nature of the visits.
“Our patients don’t have insurance and haven’t been able to afford to see a dentist regularly, so they’re often coming to us with dental needs that have accumulated for years,” Hood said. “Almost all of them need restoration work, and that requires more time and more office visits.”
Whereas a dentist in private practice might see many of their patients just once a year for their annual checkup, the dentist at the clinic typically sees every patient six times or more before restoration work is complete. For his part, Pangiochi only had his upper teeth extracted.
“The dentist was great,” Pangiochi said. “I was there for an hour and 10 minutes, and he pulled 14 teeth.” Six months later, when his mouth was fully healed from the extractions, Pangiochi went back to the clinic to be fit for dentures.
“Whoa, what a difference,” Pangiochi said. “I could chew things like nuts, fruits and ears of corn, things I avoided before and didn’t even realize I was avoiding because of the pain. This is freedom. I have my life back.
“I never considered that my dental health was affecting the rest of my body,” Pangiochi said. “I started eating better because I could eat things that were healthy for me without pain. My stomach issues went away and my complexion improved.”
The first food Pangiochi ate after he was fitted with his dentures? “Nuts,” he said. “I love walnuts and cashews.”
Pangiochi said he initially resisted going to Waldo County Dental Care out of pride. He saw the service as a handout and did not want to accept what he viewed as charity. His thinking changed with the non-judgmental care he received at the clinic.
“I want people to know that using health care you didn’t pay for is not a statement about you as a person,” Pangiochi said. “Paying isn’t what gives it value. Receiving it is what gives it value. This is the community taking care of people. These services are there because it makes people’s lives better and gets them back into the community as productive members.”
The help Pangiochi received at the clinic inspired him to volunteer as a driver for Mid-Coast Public Transportation, a program of Waldo Community Action Partners that offers low-cost transportation. He often finds himself shuttling people to their doctor’s appointments at WCGH.
“I could see how important it was for people to get to their appointments,” he said. “I believe accepting help is a sign of strength. Being able to give help is a gift.”
About Waldo County General Hospital:
Waldo County General Hospital is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 22,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit wcgh.org.