The Anne Arundel Medical Center is planning to open the county's first free dental clinic for adults this year at the downtown Annapolis site where the center runs a medical clinic.
The center has collected more than the clinic's estimated $50,000 operating costs in grants and donations to cover equipment expenses and has three dentists lined up to volunteer their services, said Bill West, director of community health and awareness.
West said that the clinic could open in the fall.
"We see so many people coming into our regular clinic who really need dental care but, right now, we don't have anywhere to send them," West said. "So we're pretty excited about the whole thing."
The medical clinic is projected to treat about 4,500 patients this year at its offices on West Washington Street. West said it was too early to predict how many patients might use the three-chair dental clinic, but said that the facility would probably offer four-hour sessions four times a month to start.
Patients likely would start with an educational and screening session one day and be treated at a follow-up session. The clinic would offer basic services such as cancer screenings, tooth extractions, cleanings and fillings, West said. It would not perform more complex cosmetic procedures.
He said the idea for the dental clinic arose last spring during conversations between medical center officials and Annapolis dentist Elizabeth Stuart McNulty, who has volunteered at dental clinics in Guatemala.
McNulty said that after returning from those clinics, she recognized that many adults in the United States also lack access to dental care.
According to a report last year by the National Health Policy Forum at George Washington University, there are three times as many Americans without dental insurance as there are without health insurance. About 618,000 Marylanders are without health insurance, according to state estimates.
The county Health Department offers pediatric dental services and offers 35 percent cost breaks for dental care to low-income adults.
"But a lot of working poor still can't afford care with those breaks," West said.
He and McNulty said many people assume they can do without dental care.
"It has been considered a health care luxury," McNulty said. "And yet it's essential. If you don't have good teeth, you can't eat properly, you can't speak properly, and it becomes much more difficult to go out and get a job."
McNulty is among the three dentists who have volunteered to staff the clinic, though the center hopes to find more, West said.
He also said he hopes the clinic will be able to get equipment donations from medical supply companies.