Organizers expect the ninth Kansas Mission of Mercy this weekend to show no slowdown in need, despite already providing 16,300 patients with $7.4 million in donated care at eight earlier giant dental clinics.
The Mission of Mercy is an annual two-day event at which 1,800 to 2,000 people are expected to get free dental care on a first-come, first-served basis.
This weekend's will be in Independence, in southeast Kansas. The doors will open at 5:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday at the Independence Community College West Campus, 2505 W. Main.
Volunteer dentists, assistants, hygienists and others will provide fillings, cleanings and extractions, all for free, to adults and children. There are no income or eligibility rules.
Wichita dentist Jon Tilton, who helped organize the first Kansas Mission of Mercy and has been involved ever since, said he'd thought that the demand would ease by now, "but it doesn't seem to be letting up any."
About 80 percent of the adults who show up at a Mission of Mercy are without dental insurance, he said, and 75 percent of them haven't been to a dentist in the previous year.
The Mission of Mercy is held in a different place each year, to make it accessible to more people. Next year's will be in Hutchinson.
One older couple who sought care at the clinic a year ago in Manhattan had gotten treatment two years earlier when the Mission of Mercy was in Topeka. They lived in a county without a dentist, Tilton said, and had no other access to dental care, nor did they have dental insurance.
"It's not all folks who are 'never appear in a dental office' kinds of folks," Tilton said. But "money is still an issue. Insurance is an issue."
Tilton said the enthusiasm of Kansas volunteers has rubbed off: More than a half-dozen other states now have their own Mission of Mercy clinics because they've seen the Kansas one.