When we temporarily closed the dental clinic in March, we understood the profound impact it would have on our patients’ oral health. Most of our patients have moderate to severe dental issues, requiring several visits to address the multiple issues that have impacted their ability to smile, eat, and sleep. Lack of fluoridated water, inability to pay for services, and years of deferred or delayed care are just some of the root causes for the dental issues our patients experience. Our patients rely on our free services to address dental issues and alleviate pain so that they can get back to their jobs and families.
We also knew that when it was safe to re-open the dental clinic, we might not have dentists who could volunteer with us, at least not immediately. Those in private practice are focused on keeping their businesses going, meaning they often work on Fridays – the day most volunteer at Oasis. Because many of our volunteer dentists are over 60 and in the high-risk category, we weren’t sure if they would return. As a result, and for the first time in our history, we hired a staff dentist for eight hours per week to provide care to our patients. This, it turns out, has been one of the best things to come out of the pandemic.
Dr. Flo Edwards started in early September and jumped quickly into action, providing almost $12,000 in free dental care during her first six weeks. She has delivered a wide array of dental services – comprehensive exams, extractions, and fillings – and our patients have been thrilled to have access to dental care again. My office is down the hall from the dental suites, and I have a front row seat to their smiles and calls of, “Thank you!” as they leave the clinic.
Being a dentist wasn’t necessarily the plan for Dr. Edwards. Growing up in Portland, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She headed to college in Illinois where she got a degree in biology and economics, minoring in classical studies. She had the prerequisites for medical or dental school and shadowed her parents’ dentist. But, teaching had appeal, and Dr. Edwards got her teaching certification from the University of New England. She taught at Bonny Eagle High School and worked at Spurwink for a while.
Dentistry, however, was still on her mind, and Dr. Edwards applied to dental school. Howard University’s College of Dentistry was at the top of her list. As a Black girl growing up in Maine, she had grown used to standing out and assimilating to those around her. The opportunity to attend a Historically Black University was a chance to be a part of and learn in a community with other Black students. As a daughter of a veteran, Dr. Edwards also decided to apply to the Army Officer Candidate School (OCS). As fate would have it, Dr. Edwards was accepted into both OCS and dental school. Through good advice and