Some people dread going to the dentist. But for others, the chance for free dental care was worth camping out all night or showing up well before dawn Saturday morning.
People began arriving as early as 4:30 p.m. Friday for their chance to get some free treatment at the Dentistry from the Heart event hosted by Cary Family Dental, which started at 7 a.m. Saturday. By the time the last extractions, fillings and cleanings were done at 5 p.m., organizers estimated they treated more than 170 patients and performed about $50,000 in free dental care.
“Whenever something like this comes around, you have to come or else you have to wait another year if you have a problem,” said Terri Mayner, a cashier from Raleigh who came for a filling, her first dental appointment in more than a year.
Mayner said she came Saturday because she can’t afford dental insurance.
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It’s for people like Mayner – who are among 100 million Americans without dental insurance – that the nonprofit Dentistry from the Heart was founded in Florida in 2001. The program has given $8 million in free dental care to more than 50,000 patients in 49 states since its inception.
The program relies on dentists such as Dr. Allan Acton, founder of Cary Family Dental, to host events.
“There’s a great need for people to have dental care, and we have a specialty we can offer,” said Acton, who hosted his first free event last year.
In addition to medical risks such as infections from untreated dental problems, Acton said not getting a filling or an extraction can lead to quality of life issues, such as daily pain that can cause people to miss work.
“The pain is a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10,” said Erica Berry of Cary, who came for an extraction.
The fast-food worker said she hadn’t seen a dentist in three years.
Some of the people who came Saturday do go to a dentist regularly. But Saturday’s free care meant they could save their money for other things.
Kurt Venrud of Cary said it would have been hard for him to budget the extraction he came for Saturday. Venrud said he depleted his life savings unsuccessfully trying to keep his restaurant open.
“I have to watch the small extravagances,” he said. “When I don’t have to cover something for $200 to $300, it’s worth coming.”
The dental office’s parking lot was full of patients sitting in chairs waiting for hours for their number to be called. Inside, 10 dentists from different practices worked with hygienists and dental students to get patients to the right rooms and to provide treatment.
“It was a lot of fun,” Acton said during a break. “There was a lot of good going on.”