A free dental clinic offered Friday and Saturday may be a Wichita family’s only chance to see a dentist for a while.
Daiquiri and Michael Derby brought their children, Sydney and Xavier, to the Kansas Mission of Mercy event at the Kansas Pavilions, showing up at 6 a.m. and joining hundreds of others waiting to receive care.
Daiquiri hasn’t been to a dentist in at least 10 years, and Michael hasn’t for about 15 years. Neither has insurance through their employers. Michael Derby said he had been experiencing tooth pain for a while.
“It’s definitely worth the wait, even if you have to drive a distance to come here,” Michael Derby said. “It’s free, everybody is really nice and taken care of, so it’s worth it. It’s kind of stupid to pass it up, really.”
A variety of services are offered at the clinic: for example, cleanings, fillings and extractions.
Rows of dental chairs are lined up behind blue partitions that separate the different services from common areas where hundreds wait.
By 9:45 a.m., more than 950 patients had registered. Event organizers say the majority of patients are uninsured.
Brendia Porchia of Wichita was waiting for a tooth extraction. A filling had fallen out, and the toothwas slowly breaking away.
Despite her fear of dental procedures, she said she would come again.
“If you need to get work done and haven’t seen (a dentist) in a long time, it’s better to come,” she said.
To receive care, patients must first pass a medical and dental screening, said Kansas Mission of Mercy co-founder Jon Tilton, a former Wichita dentist who is now vice president for professional review and dental director at Delta Dental.
Extractions are typically the most sought-after service, he said. Clinic officials estimate they will extract between 3,000 and 4,000 teeth throughout the two-day clinic.
“The need for good dental care never goes down,” said Jeff Stasch, a Garden City dentist and co-founder of Kansas Mission of Mercy. “There’s always more than we can treat every place we go.”
Angie Holladay, an event coordinator and branch manager for Patterson Dental Supply, said hygiene and education can help prevent the need for drastic dental procedures. As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Oral Health Coalition, people are encouraged to brush their teeth for two minutes a day, twice a day, and see a dentist twice a year.
Some patients have a history of drug use, which can drastically affect dental health, Tilton said.
“(Meth users) have real issues with oral health. It messes with salivary glands and teeth decay like crazy,” Tilton said. “Today we’re digging out a lot of roots for people where teeth have broken off along the gum line, that sort of thing.”
“This allows them to maintain a certain degree of anonymity, not like going to a practice where they live – people not saying ‘Did you know that so-and-so came in?’ We’re just here to help,” Stasch said. “We don’t judge them. We just help.
“A lot of times when you’re working on them, you can kind of be a counselor in a friendly way and work with them to try to raise their expectations.”
The event will continue Saturday at Pavilion II at the Kansas Pavilions, I-135 and 85th Street North. Organizers encourage patients to arrive early because service is on a first-come, first-served basis. Clinic officials said they planned to start treating patients at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Services include cleanings, fillings and extractions for children and adults. The services are free, and patients aren’t asked to provide insurance or proof of income.
More than 1,100 volunteers, including 125 to 150 dentists, more than 100 hygienists, and 175 dental assistants, helped provide care.
Students from dental programs throughout the state also volunteered, including Wichita Area Technical College, Salina Area Technical College, Flint Hills Technical College and Wichita State University.
Patients started showing up to wait for the clinic to open at about 1 p.m. Thursday. Organizers opened the doors at 9 p.m. Thursday so people wouldn’t have to wait outside, and they began procedures about 6 a.m. Friday.
This is the 10th year for the project, which started in Garden City in 2003.
The Kansas Mission of Mercy clinic is held in a different community each year to provide access for people throughout the state.
Since it began, more than 6,500 volunteers have provided more than 21,300 patients with more than $11 million in dental care.