FORT MYERS, Fla. - We all want a bright, white, healthy smile, but for many people, it's just too expensive to go to the dentist.

X-rays, cleaning, and an exam without insurance is, on average, about $200. That doesn't include fillings, crowns, or the dreaded root canal.
 

However, one Lee County group is giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of dental treatments for free.

Dr. William Truax, or Dr. Bill as he's called, is known for making people smile. Yes, he's a dentist, but he does more for people than just work on their teeth.

"I don't know what I would do if there wasn't a place like this for me to come," said one patient, Tabatha Hays.

Twenty-three years ago, after seeing a need in our community, Dr. Bill started up "Project Dentists Care," which provides dental care for the indigent.

"I believe these people ought to be treated like regular people, not like second-class citizens," Dr. Bill said.

The number of people needing this kind of help has only grown. Last year alone, nearly 1,600 patients like Hays walked through the doors on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. The total cost of those treatments was $665,000, yet patients didn't have to pay a dime.

"In order to be seen here at the clinic, you have to make less than 200 percent of federal poverty level," explained Dr. Bill.

Hays is one of those patients.

"Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, I came down with, I had some medical problems," Hays explained.

Those medical problems forced her out of work and required heavy doses of medication, which left her with nine cavities.

"They gave me a list that detailed what each filling would cost, and it was more money than I, like, make in a year now. I'd look in the mirror and think, 'Man, you know, I'm going to lose all these teeth one day, and I'm not gonna have my smile,' you know?" Hays remembered.

She didn't know how she would afford the treatment she needed until she heard about "Project Dentists Care."

"I'm going to be able to keep my smile," said Hays. "I felt like a whole other person again."

Dr. Bill is one of 42 dentists who volunteer their time and expertise to the non-profit.

"The services we provide to people are fillings, extractions, oral surgery," he explained.

With an additional $46,000 in grant money this year, dentures have now been added to the list of services.

"For 23 years, we've been pulling their teeth and leaving them toothless because we didn't have anything else. So, these people have teeth in their mouth. They can smile. They can talk. They can eat. We couldn't offer them that before," said Dr. Bill.

However, the physical transformations barely scratch the surface.

Dr. Bill said it's also about restoring a person's self-confidence, giving them the chance to lead a new life, and potentially get back on their feet.

"Before, they'd cover their mouth like this, and they were afraid to go on interviews because they couldn't smile and they didn't have any self-confidence. We've made a lot of people employable. We've changed a lot of people's lives," said Dr. Bill.

All patients have to qualify to receive treatment. To find out if you do, you can visit or call:

Project Dentists Care
2051 McGregor Blvd
Fort Myers, FL
33901
(239) 624-1454

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