Dental clinic an eye-opener

Published 9:16 am Tuesday, June 26, 2007

By Staff
The suffering was real.
The compassion was just as real.
One couldn’t help but be moved Friday and Saturday witnessing the free dental clinic held at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
The scene was both chaotic and choreographed at the same time. There was the noise of a dozen surgical suction machines mixed with music from a boom box and the chorus of 50 or 60 voices. At the same time, volunteers — about 40 of them — seemed to know where they needed to be and when they needed to be there. They worked as part of what appeared to be a well-oiled machine in roles that were new to most of them.
By any standard, it wasn’t a typical trip to the dentist’s office. There were no private offices nor piped-in elevator music. The patients sat in chairs just a few feet from other patients. There was no such thing as privacy here. The patients didn’t seem to mind, or if they did, they didn’t say anything.
Through it all, the patients seemed calm and resolute. How many times have we heard people complain about a long wait in the emergency room or a doctor’s office? There was none of that here. Some people started lining up as early as 3:30 a.m. They knew that at best, it would be 8 a.m. before somebody was able to actually see them. They probably knew the reality was that it would be far later than that. And for many it was.
Yet nobody complained.
One could argue that nobody had a right to complain. The patients were, after all, getting free dental work. But “free” isn’t quite the word we think of if it comes at the price of waiting 12 hours to get a filling.
And people did.
There could be any number of reasons why people don’t seek dental attention when they need. For some, it could be the stigma of an unpleasant visit in their past. They may wait until the pain just becomes too much and the infection too deep. For many, it boils down to money. Some don’t earn enough to be able to afford insurance or pay for a dental visit on their own. Yet they earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid. Even those who do fall under the Medicaid umbrella will find most dentists won’t take them as new patients. Dentists say they simply lose money for every Medicaid patient they see because the government will only reimburse them for half the normal fee for each procedure. And dentists do have bills to pay like everybody else does.
So where do we go from here?
Slott and the local dentists who participated can’t fix the bureaucracy, but he and others also can do what they can. The two-day dental clinic was part of that. It doesn’t come close to curing the dental issues facing the people in the Washington area, but it’s an effort. You can sit back and do nothing or you can step up to the plate and do something, even if it’s not enough. Their good-hearted effort deserves our support and applause.
For the young volunteers who worked at the clinic, the situation had to have been an eye-opener. Some of us forget about those who fall between the cracks, but they are all around us.
For at least two days, we as a community showed what we are capable of. For that, we can all be proud.