CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – Nearly 75 people braved a chilly, rainy day last week to take advantage of a wide range of free dental work during a local dentist’s annual “Free Dentistry from the Heart.”

“Dentistry from the Heart is a worldwide nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free dental care to those who need it,” said Dr. Eric Thomas, owner of Sunshine Dentistry. “This is our way of paying it forward to our community."

This is the fifth year Thomas has offered a day of free dental work – from cleanings to surgery – to area residents. Two dentists from Marmora, Dr. Al Harris and Dr. Brad Plasha, and oral surgeon Dr. Michael Toohey volunteered to work with Thomas to make sure that all dental needs could be met, he said.

There were also hygienists, dental assistants and other dental professionals donating time and resources to give a day’s worth of free dental care to as many residents as possible.

“It’s rained three out of the last five years we’ve done this,” Thomas said Friday, March 31, as he prepared a filling for Imani Hubbard. “But we’re going to be here, rain or shine.”

The international program serves about 100,000 patients each year, and locally, Thomas sets his goal at 100 people for each event.

“There are probably 100 million people nationwide that don’t have dental insurance,” Thomas said. “In Cape May County, the number of people without dental insurance is climbing.”

It’s help from area businesses that make it easier to serve people, no matter the weather. About 50 people sat warm and comfortable inside a heated tent last Friday morning. Some were patients. Others were volunteers – mainly Middle Township High School students from the Key Club and National Honor Society.

Sponsors of the event include: Marmora Family Dental, East Coast Oral Surgery, Advantage Rentals, Bellevue Tavern, Ocean First Bank, Cape May Technical School, Caprioni Porta-Potty, Christ Gospel Church, Coltene Whaledent, Crosstex, Dentsply Caulk, Glove World, Henry Schein Dental, Hu-Friedy, McDonalds, Medicom, Middle Township School District, Medicom, Reef Family Pharmacy, Septodont, Simple Ways Massage, Smart Practice, Smeltzer and Sons, Sturdy Savings Bank, The UPS Store, Kerr - Total Care, Wawa Food Market, and Klenswite Pools.

“This is our way to give back to the community,” said high school student Miranda Targum. “I think it’s amazing that people can come here and get free dental work.”

Michelle DeVico, whose husband Jeff is a township committeeman, has volunteered for the event for the last four years. “I’m here to keep them entertained while they wait to see Dr. Thomas,” she said.

“She floats and flies around here,” said Corporal Ron Miller, pointing out the fairy’s wings attached to DeVico’s back. “We call her the first lady of Middle Township.”

Miller, too, was a volunteer at the event. Though he was assigned traffic control in front of the dentist’s office on Atlantic Avenue, the officer spoke with patients waiting for their appointment, alleviating any worries they may have.

“I’m here to get a filling,” said Tina Pendrak. “I was here last year for a cleaning.”

Pendrak was joined by her friends, Donna Williams and Barbara Torpey.

“I think it’s wonderful that they give back to the community,” Torpey said.

“I’m getting a cleaning, because it’s free and he’s my dentist,” Williams said.

“We all come here for our regular work, too,” Pendrak said. “Dr. Thomas is a great dentist, and he’s a really good person.”

William Toyenst said it was his girlfriend who convinced him to get his teeth cleaned during the annual event. “And I plan to set up a follow-up appointment,” he said.

Beside him, Summer Shepard smiled and nodded. “It was my mom who told me about this,” she said. “I thought I’d bring Will along as an extra person. I’m getting a cleaning, too.”

Thomas said that helping people such as Shepard and Toyenst is why he takes part in the annual event.

“It is our pleasure to service our great community,” Thomas said. “Dentistry from the Heart not only helps a patient’s teeth and overall health, it gives them a renewed reason to smile.”

For more information, see www.dentistryfromtheheart.org or contact Sunshine Dentistry at 609-465-5415.

Middle Township Gazette reporter. Call me anytime you have news for the paper or the website. 609-365-6176