Hometown Hero: South Tampa dentist treats students who need care

December 24, 2013

TAMPA – Dequjuan Martin spent years with tooth pain, along with the headaches it caused and the trouble he had concentrating in school.

Martin, a 19-year-old Armwood High School senior who goes by “Qujuan,” couldn’t remember the last time he had his teeth cleaned.

That all changed when he met Dr. Caitilin Martini, a South Tampa dentist, who gave him a root canal, installed crowns and fillings and cleaned his teeth for free.

“She’s a great lady,” said Martin, who has no parents or legal guardian. “I used to be in pain.”

Martini began doing free dental work for a dozen or more Hillsborough County students about two years ago. That’s when she got involved with Starting Right Now, an organization that offers support to students like Martin who need a boost getting through school.

They receive free medical and dental care, as well as a mentor, a place to live and help applying to colleges.

In addition to offering her services, Martini has rounded up a team of local specialists she calls on if a student needs something beyond her scope of work. They include a periodontist, an oral surgeon, a root canal specialist and an endodontist.

“She bends over backwards,” said Vicki Sokolik, Starting Right Now founder. “Our kids do not have dental insurance. The majority have either never seen a dentist or have not in so long that they’re having all sorts of issues. A pretty significant amount of her time and resources have been used to help us.”

Born and raised in South Tampa, Martini, 46, graduated from Academy of Holy Names then the University of Florida, where she attended dental school. She is now a partner at Muscaro and Martini Dentistry on Bay to Bay Boulevard.

She decided to get involved with Starting Right Now after attending the organization’s annual luncheon with a friend. She had been working with a national organization called Give Back a Smile, which helps victims of domestic violence. But she wanted to use her work to help locals.

The stories she heard at the luncheon were eye-opening. She heard tales of students molested by father figures. One student’s family returned home one day to find they had been evicted.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said. “For most of the kids, it’s circumstances, not bad choices. Some of them have made some bad choices because of their circumstances and have not had anyone there to educate them or tell them a different way.”

Martini said helping the students – who remain her patients even after they graduate from high school – is just her way of giving back to the community. Her office contributes up to $2,500 per month to the students’ dental needs.

She hopes to establish a lecture series on dental heath for the students in the future.

“The easiest thing for me to do is give dentistry,” she said. “It makes me feel really good to be able to help these kids in a way that maybe they wouldn’t be able to be helped. We’ve made special bonds with all of the students who come in here. They are really good kids.”

On Monday, Martin stopped by Martini’s office to get his teeth cleaned. Afterward, she pulled up a chair and peered into his mouth while they talked about their Christmas plans.

“Qujuan, everything is looking really good,” she said.

Martini suggested that Martin think about taking better care of his teeth by cutting back on the Gatorade.

Martin appreciates that his dentist takes the time to teach him about oral health.

“Every time I come in,” he said, “I learn new things.”