Dental clinic aids the less fortunate|Hundreds line up for tooth care

Published 7:57 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

Staff Writer

The first patients showed up at 1 a.m. Friday outside St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington, hoping to get free dental care.
By 3 a.m., when a church volunteer showed up to keep the line orderly, 17 people were waiting for the church doors to open, said Nancy Hamblin, who helped organize local volunteers for the effort. Some patients traveled as much as three hours to get care.
That didn’t happen until 6 a.m., when registration began for appointments with dentists with the N.C. Missions of Mercy dental clinic. The first day, the clinic saw about 225 patients and sent about 100 more away. Saturday, the clinic saw even more patients.
“We have people that have been in pain for weeks waiting for us to come,” said Dr. Bill Blaylock, a Rocky Mount dentist who is director of the clinic program.
The clinic drew 450 patients this year, up from 317 patients last year, a new record for the clinic, which is about five years old, Hamblin said. She attributed the increase to more medical professionals donating more time. Last year’s 23 dental chairs gave way to 33 chairs this year, she said.
Hamblin and Blaylock also cited the work of corporate and community donors. While some donors and donations were obvious, like dental companies donating dental supplies, others were less intuitive. For example, Gregory Pool Co. donated a compressor that ran all of the equipment, Hamblin said.
Wilmer Velasquez Juarez, a Washington resident, said he hadn’t had dental care in years before he came to the clinic, which he heard about from a friend who had helped set up equipment Thursday. He got his teeth cleaned, saying he was well-satisfied with the service.
Dr. Keith Taylor, who dentist who came from Chapel Hill to help at the clinic, said the hundreds of people who came to the clinic are just one symptom of a widespread problem.
“There’s over a million and half people in this state that have no access to absolutely basic dental care, and they’ve got some serious issues,” he said.
Each patient was eligible for one procedure per day on a first-come, first-served basis. That could be a cleaning, a filling or the extraction of some teeth, Hamblin said. She said doctors examined each patient to determine which treatments were most needed.
Friday afternoon, Blaylock was performing the triage. The newly appointed director of the N.C. Missions of Mercy clinics looked in each patient’s mouth for a few moments, determining, many times, which teeth should be pulled, then explained that the program visits a dozen or so sites across the state (“from Murphy to Manteo”) each year.
It was originally started by an Alamance County dentist, who began operating a free clinic from his office after hours, he said.
Blaylock also stressed the importance of volunteers.
“The volunteers really make the clinic,” he said.