MANATEE -- Turning Points, the Bradenton nonprofit that provides services to thousands of homeless and disadvantaged people, wants to expand its dental clinic to help more people like Pamela Kocoras.
Kocoras, a huge fan of Turning Points' dentist Dr. James Little, is one of 700 dental patients who qualified for care last year based on income, said Turning Points executive director Adele Erozer.
Kocoras is unemployed and has no insurance.
"I think he's the greatest dentist because he's a U.S. Navy dentist and the Navy is my family, so I trust him," said Kocoras, who has been receiving dental care at the 17th Avenue facility for about five years. "They take care of my teeth."
Little, who retired from private practice seven year ago, decided it was time to give back.
"I was approached to go to South America for 10 days and treat the Indians in the mountains but to my mind I don't need to go that far to help people," he said. "I can help people in my own backyard and that is how I got involved here."
As part of its dental expansion, Turning Points is hoping to find a third volunteer dentist to join Little. The nonprofit already has another dentist working one day a week.
Litle said he was shocked when he learned how much need there is in the community when he participated in 'Give Kids a Smile Day, a day for underpriveleged children to get free dental treatments.
"One Saturday we had a 'Give Kids a Smile Day" at my office and we had several doctors there and saw 60 or 70 patients," he said. "Then I heard that Manatee County has identified over 2,000 homeless children and that fact blew my mind."
Turning Points provides cleanings, filling cavities, extractions and both partial and full dentures, but does not include crowns, fixed bridges, implants and other advanced and cosmetic work, Little said.
"We have been paying our volunteer dentists $100 per hour, which is about half of what they can make," Erozer said.
Erozer calculates it will take another $120,000 a year to hire an additional dentist at the discounted rate of $100 per hour to see 1,400 patients yearly -- a figure that still doesn't touch the full need.
"We are looking for people who have any ideas or businesses that would like to contribute," Erozer said. "We would like to have a community-based solution to providing dental care in this county."
Turning Points is seeking grants or private foundations that might be interested in funding the program long-term. "We are trying to avoid having to charge people, so it needs to be a long-term solution that has a funding source that is permanent," Erozer said.
Little works a full schedule at Turning Points, which provided 9,645 clients with medical, dental and other services last fiscal year.
The new dentist may not be paid like a private dentist, but will get the gratification that they are changing the lives of people who often can't chew their food and have low self-esteem and lack of confidence from tooth decay or tooth loss, Erozer said.
"There is a desperate need for access to dental care in Manatee County," Erozer added. "People in this situation struggle finding jobs, even companions and friends."
Clients often come to Turning Points' dental clinic at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center, 701 17th Ave. W., Bradenton, because they have been referred by private dentists or a hospital emergency room.
In February, the Bradenton Kiwanis Foundation responded to Turning Points' desire to expand with a $50,000 grant so the nonprofit could install a fully equipped dental room, Erozer said.
The room enables Little to see more clients and have two dentists work together.
"We saw 700 unduplicated clients in the dental clinic last year," Erozer said. "So, if we were able to have two dentists who are working full-time, we would be able to double that."
Since it was established in 2009, the clinic has performed nearly $9 million worth of free services to uninsured and under-insured residents of Manatee County, Erozer said. Since the Kiwanis Foundation was formed in 1994, the organization has distributed more than $6 million in Manatee County, including more than $2 million in scholarships, she added.
An open-to-the-public dedication of the new "Kiwanis Dental Room" will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday at Turning Points.
People who need dental care can call 941-747-1509 to get the criteria for qualifying for service.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.