GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Thousands of disadvantaged children will soon benefit from a $5.5 million gift to the University of Florida College of Dentistry that will fund the construction and operation of a state-of-the-art pediatric dental facility in Collier County.
The gift was announced Dec. 13 by trustees for the Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founder of the hugely successful Naples Winter Wine Festival. The exclusive event, featuring international celebrity chefs and prestigious vintners, has raised nearly $40 million for local children’s charities since its inception in 2000 and is billed as the “most successful charity wine event in the world.”
Of the foundation’s gift to the UF College of Dentistry, $4 million is eligible for state match through the Alec P. Courtelis Facilities Enhancement Challenge Grant Program and will fund the construction and equipping of the UF dental facility on the Collier County campus of Edison College. The remaining $1.5 million will cover the dental program’s start-up operational expenses.
The $8 million building, modeled after the UF dental clinic on the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College in Pinellas County, will be a two-story, 20,000-square-foot dental clinic and education facility. The UF dental program at Edison College is expected to open in the fall of 2008 and eventually will expand to provide specialized pediatric dental treatment to Collier County’s Medicaid-eligible and at-risk children during an estimated 15,000 patient visits each year.
The foundation’s decision to fund a dental clinic for Collier County children was based on a needs assessment study it commissioned in 2005 from the UF Lastinger Center for Learning. The assessment identified an oral health crisis in Collier County children and recommended a communitywide oral health program to expand the availability of dental services. The study found 17,000 Collier County children are without dental care, and less than 14 percent of the 25,000 children eligible for dental care through Medicaid ever receive any treatment.
The Lastinger Center’s findings mirror a nationwide trend in children’s oral health. The U.S. surgeon general has reported children from low-income or minority families are twice as likely to suffer from untreated dental disease and estimated that 20 percent of the nation’s most vulnerable children carry 80 percent of the burden of all dental disease.
“Despite its being the most common infectious childhood disease, the impact of tooth decay on children’s health and cognitive development is very often overlooked,” said UF College of Dentistry Dean Teresa A. Dolan. “When left untreated, painful tooth decay impairs a child’s ability to eat, speak and to do well in school, and it is children from families with the least resources who are most likely to suffer. This clinic will help turn that situation around for Collier County children.”
The UF dental facility at Edison College will offer specialized treatment for the county’s Medicaid-eligible and at-risk children and will serve as a new home for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, which provides critical medical and dental education and preventive services to Collier County children.
The project represents a unique and innovative collaboration among the philanthropic Naples Children and Education Foundation, UF, Edison College and Collier Health Services Inc. Edison College district board of trustees approved a long-term land lease agreement with UF to give the facility an academic home. While the first floor of the two-story building will be dedicated to UF’s clinical operations, Edison College will share use of second-floor classrooms and laboratory space.
CHSI, which has long been a UF partner in extending dental services to Collier County residents through its community health centers, will manage the clinic’s billing and collection activities and supply procurement. Additionally, CHSI community health clinics and its Ronald McDonald Care Mobile will refer patients to the dental clinic.
The dental facility at the Edison site will be the UF College of Dentistry’s newest clinic in its Statewide Network for Community Oral Health. The network comprises UF’s Gainesville and community-based clinics in Hialeah, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville as well as 14 county health department, community health center and private not-for-profit partner clinics statewide.
This strategy of community partnerships focusing on vulnerable, indigent and special needs populations has led to the UF College of Dentistry becoming one of the largest providers of low-cost dental care in Florida.