Dr. Louis Mason, D.D.S., of Advantage Dental Care in Port Allen pulled up to his office around 6 a.m. to find a line of people that stretched around the corner of the building on N. Alexander Avenue.
The line to the dentist’s office, which drew comparisons to electronic stores on Black Friday, began accumulating before 5 a.m., as people patiently waited to get into an office which opened its doors at 8 a.m.
On Friday, March 22, Mason, along with his staff and other volunteers, opened his office doors in an endeavor called “Dentistry from the Heart,” where they treated patients completely free of charge throughout the entire day.
According to the website www.dentistryfromtheheart.com, Dentistry From The Heart (DFTH) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing free dental care to those who need it. Every year, individual dentists and practices across the country donate their time and resources to host their own DFTH events.
Mason said, before the event, that his office was expecting to see about 50 patients throughout the day, but were shocked to find that by 9 a.m., 100 people had already signed up for basic dentistry procedures.
“The response is tremendous,” Mason said Friday afternoon shortly after he and the other volunteers took a lunch break. “It was a lot more than I thought. Maybe I underestimate the need for this kind of stuff in this area.
“Our goal was to take care of 50 people… even with the guest doctors that are coming in. We had to limit it to about 100.”
Members of Mason’s staff said that before their lunch break began, more than 30 patients had been taken care of, and there were many more waiting for their numbers to be called.
“We got a lot of hugs this morning. We had some tears; some people were overjoyed. Everybody seemed really grateful,” Mason said.
Dr. Kevin Kidder, D.D.S., also of Advantage Dental Care, said that the free dental care was simply a way to fill a need in the West Baton Rouge community and help people that desperately needed help.
“It’s a great community and we’re trying to serve everybody. Some people just are having tough times economically and can’t afford to go see the dentist. If we can help out just a little bit with that,” Kidder said as he paused in a moment of reflection. “Health care and dentistry are very expensive, and it’s really important that we try to get people covered and out of pain that aren’t fortunate enough to be able to go and spend hundreds of dollars on getting their teeth fixed. That’s really the biggest thing, what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Rose Theriot, 53, of Port Allen, said that she waited in front of the dentist’s office for more than six hours to get a tooth extraction.
She said she cried when she read that the office would be providing free dental care.
“I really need help,” Theriot said, several minutes before her number was called and she was able to go in to see the dentist.
She said she arrived around 7 a.m., but was in the highest of spirits because of the service she knew she would soon receive.
“It’s awesome! It’s a Godsend what (Mason) is doing, getting together with these other doctors. God bless him for doing it,” she said.
Mason, along with Kidder and Dr. Richard Akins M.D., D.D.S., an oral surgeon out of Baton Rouge, were the dentists for any oral surgical procedures that would be done, such as extractions. Several dental assistants were also on hand to assist with surgeries and to do teeth cleanings and fillings.
“Every single person here; the doctors, the staff, we’ve got people that came in from the colleges and the pre-dental curriculum from different universities – every single one of them have volunteered,” Mason said. “There’s no paid individual today, it’s a complete charitable event, top to bottom. I thought that was pretty impressive.”
Amy Brigalia, 52, of Plaquemine said that her faith in humanity was restored because of Mason’s Dentistry from the Heart event.
“I’ve never seen this anywhere before. It’s a real nice thing. A lot of people just can’t afford (dental care),” Brigalia said, adding that she was not there to receive dental assistance, herself, but rather that she brought a friend to the office. “You don’t get anything for free anymore.”
Dental assistant Dolores “Dee”Aucoin, who has been on Mason’s staff for more than 30 years, said that Mason has always wanted to do something to help the people of the community and the surrounding areas, and she was happy they were able to fulfill such a desire.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. This is the first time we’ve done this and I think it’s wonderful. People always want to help people, but I guess we never just think about doing something like this, the charity from the heart, we love it,” Aucoin said. “I know Dr. Mason is enjoying it, because we’ve always wanted to do something like this, so we finally planned it and did it.”
Mason said that he is, in fact, pleased that he and all the others that helped and volunteered were able to help so many people in need.
“It’s definitely from the heart. Because we feel good doing it for someone, and when we’re finished with our patients they’re so appreciative, because they needed it, and we’re helping them,” he said. “I think it’s a great success and it was very, very much needed. And I’m glad we got to help so many people.”
Mason said that he plans to continue hosting Dentistry for the Heart events annually.
Advantage Dental Care, located on N. Alexander Avenue in Port Allen, is open Monday through Saturday.
For more information on the Port Allen dentist, visit www.AdvantageDentalPA.com. For more information about the Dentistry for the Heart organization, visit www.dentistryfromtheheart.org.