TAMPA, Fla. — Florida state legislators voted to fund a program that helps those in need find volunteer dental services in this year's budget. The money is projected to help nearly twice as many people as before, which will help clear the system's backlog. 

After Violet Sansom had nearly all of her teeth removed in a dental procedure two years ago, her dentist, Dr. Terry Buckenheimer, asked her that if she had one wish, what would it be?

“I said new dentures,” says Sansom. “And he said to me, ‘Well, you know what? Your wish has been granted.’”

What You Need To Know

  • In 2019, the Florida Legislature approved establishing Florida’s dental student loan repayment program and the Florida Donated Dental Services program into statute, but did not include any funding for the programs

  • In the state budget just approved by lawmakers this year, Florida earmarked $1.773 million for those programs

  • The Florida Donated Dental Services program existed since 1997

“I was blown out of my mind and it touched me, because I didn’t have the money for the new dentures, recalls Sansom, 76.

The Florida Legislature passed a bill in 2019 that established the Donated Dental Service program (and the state’s dental student loan repayment program) into Florida statute, but they didn’t approve any funding for it until this year’s session. If Gov. Ron DeSantis signs off on the proposal in the 2022-2023 budget currently on his desk, $200,000 will be allocated to the Donated Dental Service program to pay for administrative staff who can work to find more dentists and labs who are willing to donate their services to those who need such care.

“We need more help,” says Dr. Buckenheimer, who has worked for years with the Dental Lifeline Network, a national organization that oversees the Donated Dental Service program. “What this money enables us to do is bring in another coordinator, maybe expand her hours to full time, and get twice as many people served.”

Buckenheimer says that there are currently over 700 patients on a waiting list for dental care in the program. Because of that backlog, applications for care are only being accepted in four counties at the moment: Hillsborough, Bay, Broward and Palm Beach, according to the Florida Dental Lifeline Network’s website.

In addition to dentists who volunteer with the program, there are more than 200 dental labs throughout the state who also contribute to the network.

“We’re glad to help,” says Ned LaMarti, the owner of Yola Dental Labs in Tampa. He says these labs are similar to pharmacies, with dentists making requests for technicians to design prosthetic needs like dentures and crowns.

The Florida Dental Association Foundation and Dental Lifeline Network-Florida have funded the Donated Dental Service program since it began in 1997.