Clinic meets dire need

Published 5:02 am Sunday, July 18, 2010

Contributing Editor

Nicole Alexander said her decision to leave Goldsboro at 4 a.m. Saturday to travel to the free dental clinic in Washington later that day was a wise one.
Alexander, 23, was one of several hundred people who were treated by volunteer dentists and others who were part of the two-day N.C. Missions of Mercy dental clinic held at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Friday and Saturday.
“My girlfriend told me about it,” Alexander said when asked how she learned of the clinic.
With her mouth full of dental gauze as the result of have two teeth extracted, Alexander’s speech was somewhat difficult to understand. Her attitude about the clinic was not — she appreciated the free dental work she received and would like to see more such clinics in eastern North Carolina.
“It’s good,” she replied when asked to assess the clinic and its value to those who cannot afford dental care. “What they are doing helps so many people who otherwise would not have access to dental care. There are so many people here today who are thankful for this clinic.”
Dr. Bill Blaylock, a Rocky Mount dentist who is director of the clinic program, said the NCMOM clinics definitely affect patients.
“We have patients leaving with tears of joy. Some of these patients suffered for days, weeks or months with pain before coming to see us,” Blaylock said during a brief interview Saturday morning.
The biggest challenged faced by NCMOM when it comes to its dental clinics is “getting the word out to the communities for the patients to come see us,” Blaylock said. That is accomplished by word of mouth — former patients telling people they know about the clinics — through the media and by working with churches and health-care providers, he said.
After patients register, dentists determine what kinds of procedures are needed. Each patient may receive one procedure per day. Treatment is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Procedures include fillings, extractions and cleanings.
Blaylock said the NCMOM program began eight years ago when Dr. Steve Slott, a fellow dentist, set up the first NCMOM dental clinic. Blaylock and Slott were in dental school together, but a year apart.
“I worked as a volunteer and got hooked,” Blaylock said.
Slott’s son, Bo Slott, is logistical coordinator for NCMOM’s dental clinics. One can tell the younger Slott is a member of “core group” at NCMOM dental clinics because of the bright yellow shirt he wears. He’s one of two NCMOM employees who works at the clinics; others assisting at the clinics are volunteers.
NCMOM conducts 12 dental clinics in North Carolina each year, and its assists with similar clinics in South Carolina and Virginia, the younger Slott said. By the end of this year, NCMOM will have been a part of 14 clinics, he noted.
In the past, people would begin lining up at the clinics around 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., Slott said.
“Now, we’ve got people camping out the night before the clinic opens,” Slott said during a brief interview Saturday morning.
They don’t mind the waiting, he said.
“It’s a good 4 to 5 hours after they register before they’re seen,” Slott said.
Almost all patients appreciate the dental work they receive, he said.
“About 99 percent are grateful. We have some bad apples who gripe and complain,” he said.