Local News

N.C.'s largest free dental clinic held in Durham

Posted March 12, 2010 3:52 p.m. EST
Updated March 12, 2010 6:26 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of people lined up outside the National Guard Armory in Durham early Friday for the first day of what might be the state's largest free dental clinic.

"We were here at 3:30 (a.m.). We were probably about 80th in line," patient Geneva Cash said.

Cash got her teeth cleaned, and her husband had six teeth pulled.

"It's a big deal to have hurting teeth, because that's a pain who can't subside with Tylenol," patient Michael Hall said.

Hall said he had been suffering with two sore teeth for a couple weeks, but he hadn't been to the dentist.

"I can't afford it. It costs too much," he said. "I'm going to get both of them pulled today."

The North Carolina Dental Society sponsors the two-day Missions of Mercy clinic. About 100 volunteer dentists and hygienists hope to X-ray, clean, fill or pull teeth for about 1,000 adults who can't afford regular dental care.

The clinic will also run 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the Durham National Guard Armory on Stadium Drive. Lines form early, and patients will be seen on a first-come, first-serve basis. Patients must be age 18 or older and earn less than 200 percent of the national poverty level annually.

(See a schedule of statewide clinics for the rest of the year.)

Dr. Bill Blaylock said many patients have no other options for dental care than the clinic.

"People actually just walk around with toothaches for months, waiting for us to get to a clinic near them," Blaylock said. "I just talked to an oral surgeon. He took out 23 teeth on one person."

Blaylock said the statewide series of clinics used to serve mainly the working poor, but that's been changing.

"We're seeing a shift to people who have jobs who had dental insurance. They've lost their jobs and their benefits, so they're coming to us for help," he said.

In 2009, Missions of Mercy clinics treated more than 5,300 patients and provided $2.2 million in free dental care.

Patients said they appreciate the care.

"There's not enough words you can say. 'Thank you' is tool small to say. They're heaven-sent, really," Cash said.