By PHIL ATTINGER
SEBRING — Three years ago, Teresa McNee had a tooth that every dentist she saw told her it would have to get pulled.
Her sister, a dental hygienist in Fort Myers, heard about an annual event in Sebring where people could get dental services for free and recommended her.
Dr. David E. Willey, who hosted the annual Day of Giving dental services event, was able to save her tooth, a left-side upper bicuspid.
On Friday, she returned to have a filling done on her left upper canine.
“He’s amazing,” McNee said. “There’s so many who say they can’t save what he can fix. It is well worth coming early and staying outside.”
McNee arrived at 3:30 a.m. Friday. Mary Richardson of Sebring, who arrived at 12:30 a.m., said the long wait was worth being done within an hour or two of the doors opening at 7 a.m.
“It’s a blessing to those who don’t have dental insurance to be able to get the service,” Richardson said. “It’s so much harder for a lot of people who can’t get to the dentist.”
Richardson has been at the event almost all of the eight years it’s been held. She’s become a social media friend of Willey’s wife, Allison, who along with office staff, former office staff and volunteers, made sure the event went off without a hitch.
Credit for keeping everything organized, according to Nancy McDuffee, Willey’s head of Marketing, goes to Krissy McGee, his office administrator.
“It’s a lot of teamwork,” McGee said. “We start prep four months out, and the night before, we get everything set up.”
One of Willey’s colleagues, Dr. Michael Lamb, said during a brief break that he and other dentists would not be able to set up an examination room without the office staff, because they know where everything is and can set it up in two minutes, where it would take him 15.
That’s what made it possible for the dentist team — which this year consisted of Willey, Lamb, Dr. Stephen Ebner, Dr. Steven Guelff and Dr. Michael Kirsch — to run through the 100 people who had signed up by start time Friday.
McDuffee said they would try to do 65 on the dentists’ side and 40 on the hygienists’ side, which is how many needed each service. Their numeric goal, McGee said, was to serve 116 this year.
Last year, the event served 98 people, McGee said.
Jennifer Ricker, a hygienist who lives in the Florida Panhandle with her U.S. Air Force husband, drove down to take part because she used to work for Willey, from 2015-2017.
Last year, she didn’t have time off — and the couple was displaced by Hurricane Michael — but this time, she had a couple of days off.
“I would do anything to come back and work with Willey,” Ricker said.
Allison Willey said their new office, currently under construction beside Sunset Grill across Lake Jackson from their current office, will have five more stations than the eight they have now, giving them even more room to work and serve patients next year.
Parking might be a bit more tight over there, however. On Friday, cars were lined up on the grass between U.S. 27 and the Lakeview Drive exit off the highway, near Gate Gas Station in Sebring.
The closest available overflow parking at the new location is at Sunset Beach Motel or the Southgate Publix parking lot, which is usually full.
Logistics are one of the things the team works out in the run up to the event, organizers said.
“Our (biggest) goal is to get the word out so people show up,” Willey said.
Lamb said the event may not make a huge dent in the dental needs of the community, especially since the area is still short of dentists, but it’s more about improving someone’s life than making great numbers.
“Even if you help one person one time,” Lamb said. “As far as they’re concerned, (you) made their day.”