BANGOR, Maine — Arlene Michaud on Saturday walked into Grace United Methodist Church on Union Street for the first time in more than 30 years.
She didn’t go there to pray or to seek guidance from a minister. Michaud, who lives in Bangor, went to the 105-year-old church building to have her teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist with Tooth Protectors Inc.
The Scarborough-based firm had never set up in a church before, according to its president, Sabrina Toye.
The year-old-company has taken its portable dental equipment to schools, hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes from Kittery to Greenbush, she said Saturday. Devoted to providing affordable on-site dental care, Tooth Protectors has served about 1,700 patients at more than 200 sites in its short lifetime.
“It was the [$65] price that brought me here,” Michaud said after her teeth had been cleaned. “That’s half of what it would have been to go to my regular hygienist.”
The cost of the cleaning was free for children who are covered under the MaineCare program.
Michaud also received a fluoride treatment, an oral cancer screening and a free toothbrush and toothpaste.
“I’m cavity-free,” she bragged. “But I do have some problems. I was bad and I haven’t flossed the way I should. I’m going to make an effort to floss more.”
Michaud also said she was satisfied with the service she received from dental hygienist Tammy Chouinard.
Roberta Doughty, a church member, met Toye when Tooth Protectors came to the school in Carmel where Doughty works. She arranged to have the mobile dental team set up in the church nursery Saturday where at least four children and eight adults were seen.
“We’re hoping they can come back to Grace in about six months and see more people,” she said.
Chouinard said she often sees students at schools who do not have a dentist. During a recent exam she noticed an abscess and was able to speak with the student’s mother about getting antibiotics for her child.
“If we had not been there to find it, it might have gotten to the point where she had a lot of pain and a very swollen mouth,” she said. “Sometimes we can catch an issue before it becomes a problem. ”
Tooth Protectors was founded to help fill the gap in affordable dental services due to the shortage of dentists in Maine, Toye said. There are so few dentists that a new program, which would pay for dental care in nursing homes, may not be implemented in Maine.
Tooth Protectors has not found a dentist to sign on with them to deliver dental care to residents of nursing homes. If a dentist does not come forward in the next week, Toye said, funding for the program will be lost.
She also stressed the need for a dental school in the state, which the University of New England in Biddeford is struggling to get off the ground.
“We employ six hygienists and two people in our office,” Toye said. “Some days, the demand is so great, we can barely keep up, but it’s essential.”
She added that people should have yearly dental exams beginning at age 1.
For information on Tooth Protectors Inc., call 513-1111 or visit www.ToothProtectors.org.